The latest data from MapBiomas Amazônia reinforces the need for integrated international action to reverse the current trend of destruction which, if it persists, will take the biome beyond its point of no return by the end of this decade
In 1985, only 6% (around 50 million hectares) of the Amazon had been transformed into anthropogenic areas, such as pastures, crops, mines or urban areas. In 2021, this area almost tripled to 15% (almost 125 million hectares) of the entire region. That's a net loss of almost 10% of its natural vegetation in just 37 years. The magnitude of the destruction varies from one country to another: in Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana it is only 1.6%, but in Brazil it is as high as 19%. This percentage is very close to the tipping point or point of no return, calculated by scientists to be between 20% and 25% loss of vegetation cover. If the current trend verified by MapBiomas Amazônia continues, the biome, which is a carbon sink of planetary importance, will reach a point of no return, irreversibly affecting its ecosystem services, and could become a savannah.
The glaciers of the Amazonian Andes, which provide water for millions of people and feed the headwaters of the region's great rivers, lost 46% of their ice in the period analyzed. Mining activity has expanded by 1107% (more than 1,000 percent, from 47,000 hectares in 1985 to more than 570,000 hectares in 2021).
How was the measurement made in such a heterogeneous region?
The data is the result of the MapBiomas Amazônia 4.0 Collection, an initiative resulting from the collaboration between RAISG (Rede Amazônica de Informações Socioambientais Georreferenciadas) and the MapBiomas Network. The initiative has been mapping the dynamics of 18 different classes of land cover and land use, such as forests, savannas, mangroves, agricultural areas, urban areas, mining and glaciers, for more than three decades, with a resolution of 30 meters, within the 8.4 million km2 of the Amazon region, which includes the Andes, the Amazon plain and the transitions with the Cerrado and the Pantanal.
The results were presented on December 2 in the auditorium of the Brazilian Embassy in Lima, with a live broadcast on RAISG's YouTube channel.
The event took place at the Brazilian Embassy in Lima, Peru (Photo: Juliano Schirmbeck)
Accelerated transformation of the Amazon forests
The results of the preliminary analysis reveal an accelerated transformation of the Amazon forests. According to the authors, the losses have been enormous, practically irreversible and with no prospect of reversing this trend. The data shines a yellow light and gives a sense of urgency to the need for integrated, decisive and forceful international action.
"The MapBiomas Amazônia 4.0 Collection is invaluable for understanding the dynamics of natural resource use in the region, as well as contributing to climate modeling and the calculation of greenhouse gas emissions and removals due to changes in land use in the region." said Tasso Azevedo, General Coordinator of MapBiomas. Beto Ricardo, general coordinator of RAISG, adds that the information generated by MapBiomas Amazônia strengthens the Network with technical-scientific data, key messages about the importance of the Amazon, its great contribution to the world in climate regulation and carbon storage, while warning about the changes in natural cover caused by different anthropogenic activities carried out between 1985 and 2021. Ricardo points out that these activities jeopardize the natural balance of ecosystems and, with it, the stability of the planet's climate. "Publishing the MapBiomas Amazon Collection 4.0 allows us to contribute to monitoring the region from an integral perspective, helping us to build and propose more precise conservation strategies with proposals and political information shared between other countries, as well as socio-environmental aspects of great importance."
For María Olga Borja, Ecuador's technical coordinator, these maps represent a major contribution to the region and her country: "Ecuador doesn't have such a detailed temporal analysis. The annual periodicity of this data allows us to measure the pulse of the changes that ecosystems are undergoing, some caused directly by human activities, such as the conversion of forests to agriculture, but others that already show evident and measurable signs of climate change, such as the reduction of glaciers and the expansion of lakes due to thawing, among others."
The authors highlight the contrast between the accelerated dynamics of land use change in the Amazon in the period studied, and particularly in the last thirty years, with the slow pace of climate negotiations, which in the almost three decades since the first climate summit have made modest progress.
For Harlem Mariño, coordinator of a project on climate change led by RAISG, the lack of definitive agreements at COP27 on key issues for mitigating climate change, such as phasing out the use of all fossil fuels, will have repercussions in the Amazon: "This means that greenhouse gas emissions from the use of fossil fuels will continue to put pressure on carbon sinks, such as the Amazon rainforest. Furthermore, this lack of agreements could lead to the continued promotion of fossil fuel exploitation activities in the Amazon, with a consequent reduction in the availability of carbon sinks and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from changes in land use and the consequent burning of these fossil fuels," says Mariño.
ABOUT THE MAPBIOMAS AMAZONIA PLATFORM
The MapBiomas Amazônia platform (http://amazonia.mapbiomas.org) is a tool that allows anyone with Internet access to understand the changes in land use throughout the Amazon and the pressures on its forests and natural ecosystems. The information generated is compatible for all countries in the region and provides information on the situation of 18 categories of analysis, called "classes", which include areas covered by forests, natural grasslands, mangroves, agriculture and rivers. The information is free and available for download.
It allows you to explore the latest collection of annual maps, covering the period between 1985 and 2021, and identify changes in land cover and land use in a given location (regional, national and local) and period (year, five-year period, decades, etc.). The tool also presents statistics in dynamic tables and graphs, with the changes in use over the period the user requires, and allows them to understand the dynamics of the changes inside and outside an Indigenous Territory or Protected Area. The platform also allows you to explore data related to pressure vectors on natural cover such as mining concessions, oil plots, roads and hydroelectric plants.