Sustainable land use planning can save the Amazon from the increase of fires related to climate change by the end of the 21st Century
A study published today in the prestigious journal Global Change Biology led by Scientists from the National Institute of Space Research (INPE) and the Centre for Disaster Research and Monitoring (CEMADEN) in Brazil, the University of Exeter – UK and the Stockholm University - Sweden, highlights that sustainable management of land use and cover may be the main solution to drastically minimize the extensive degradation of Amazonian forests by increased risk of wildfires driven by climate change.
The study, titled "Effects of climate and land-use change scenarios on fire probability during the 21st century in the Brazilian Amazon", indicates that future unmanaged forest conversions for agricultural uses in the Brazilian Amazon can enlarge the extend of areas with high probability of fire at the end of this century by more than 70% in relation to present day. This scenario includes, for example, the reduction of the effectiveness of protected areas, the paving of new highways and the increase in deforestation. When combined with IPCC´s CMIP5 pessimistic climate change scenario, which projects increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions throughout the 21st century, the area with high probability of wildfires could increase by up to 110%.
Dr Marisa Fonseca, a postdoctoral researcher at INPE and lead author of the study says:
“These figures are worrisome because, although this projection is made assuming a deforestation rate higher than the current one, the annual deforestation rates monitored by PRODES/INPE from 2012 to 2018, showed an increase around 65%".
According to the DETER/INPE deforestation alerts, between July 2018 and July 2019, 5,364 km2 of forests were cleared and another 4,405 km2 were affected forest fires. “This means that if we continue removing forest cover in Amazonia, we will be potentializing wildfire degradation of the remaining forests, with consequences for the stability of carbon stocks and environmental services" adds Dr Fonseca.
Conservation units and indigenous lands may not be safe. The results from the model indicate that more than 1 million km2 within indigenous lands or protected areas would be subject to an increased likelihood of occurrence of wildfires, threatening both ecosystems and human populations in these areas. The adoption of measures aimed at reducing deforestation and GHG emissions, however, can significantly reduce the probability of wildfires, even with the intensification of droughts in the Amazon by the end of the century.
Using a more optimistic combination of climate change and land use scenarios, which considers the compliance with environmental legislation, the Brazilian Forest Code, the protection of conservation units, and the reduction of deforestation to annual rates below 1000 km2 until 2025, associated to a reduction in the rate GHG emissions, with subsequent stabilization in the second half of the century, the increase in the area with high probability of fire would be 90% lower than the previous scenario. To reach the level of changes considered in the optimistic scenario used in this study, a coordinated effort by civil society, government and experts is critical, scientists say. "At CEMADEN, we are developing a system to monitor forest fires that allows the identification of property where there is fire, strengthening relations with local institutions and working with communities and schools in the State of Acre. These actions are the basis for reducing the risk of fires and their impacts. In the future we intend to expand this system to other states of the Amazon" says Liana Anderson, a scientist at the centre, and co-author of the study
Despite the alarming results of this study, Luiz Aragão, principal investigator of the research and head of INPE's Remote Sensing Division, sees the results with great optimism. The scientist says that "the study identifies a very serious problem and we have to use this result for the benefit of Brazil’s sustainable development".
"The results of Dr Fonseca et al. highlight potential threats to the stability of Amazonian ecosystems".
Aragão explains that "for the first time, we have been able to demonstrate that although the climate is changing, with the possibility of negative consequences for the Amazon, the biggest villain on the burning issue is the poorly planned use of land in this region".
"The bottom line is that unlike the climate, land use issues can be addressed through control measures that can be implemented quickly, solving a significant fraction of the problem."
"Brazil’s energy production is centred on hydroelectric power. Moreover, its economy is largely based on biological products, derived from plants and animals. To maintain the positiveness of the Brazilian trade balance, there is the need to guarantee exports of these products. To promote national development, therefore, society and governments have to understand that the Amazon rainforest with its full extent and function is essential to ensure, among other essential services, rainfall for agricultural production and for supplying river basins”, concludes Aragão.
Global Change Biology is ranked 1st among journals in the area of Biodiversity Conservation and 2nd in Global and Planetary Changes. The study can be accessed through the journal webpage at the link https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/gcb.14709