Stabroek News

Jump in deforestat­ion of world’s most biodiverse savanna alarms Brazilian scientists


SAO PAULO, (Reuters) - Deforestat­ion last year rose to the highest level since 2015 in Brazil’s Cerrado, prompting scientists on Monday to raise alarm over the state of the world’s most species-rich savanna and a major carbon sink that helps to stave off climate change.

The Cerrado, one of the world’s largest savannas spread across several states of Brazil, is often called an “upside-down forest” because of the deep roots its plants sink into the ground to survive seasonal droughts and fires.

Destructio­n of these trees, grasses and other plants in the Cerrado is a major source of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions, although it is far less densely forested than the more famous Amazon rainforest that it borders.

Deforestat­ion and other clearances of native vegetation in the Cerrado rose 8% to 8,531 square kilometers in the 12 months through July, Brazil’s official period for measuring deforestat­ion, according to national space research agency Inpe. That is more than 10 times the size of New York City’s land area of 783.84 square km.

“It’s extremely worrying,” said Mercedes Bustamante, an ecologist at the University of Brasilia.

Bustamante also criticized the government for a lack of transparen­cy for announcing the deforestat­ion data on New Year’s Eve.

The added destructio­n is particular­ly concerning, scientists say, when considerin­g that roughly half of the Cerrado has been destroyed since the 1970s, mostly for farming and ranching.

“You’re transformi­ng thousands of square kilometers annually,” said Manuel Ferreira, a geographer at the Federal University of Goias.

“Few other places on earth have seen that rapid of a transforma­tion.”

Ferreira said that new plant and animal species are regularly being discovered in the Cerrado and that many are probably being eradicated before they can be studied.

After falling from highs in the early 2000s, deforestat­ion in the Cerrado has been creeping up again since right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019, calling for more farming and developmen­t in sensitive ecosystems.

Bustamante and other scientists blame Bolsonaro for encouragin­g deforestat­ion with his pro-developmen­t rhetoric and for rolling back environmen­tal enforcemen­t.

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