Home / Lounge / Features /  Climate Change Tracker: The Amazon rainforest burns again

Exactly a year ago, the worst ever fires were raging in the Amazon rainforest. In August 2019, 30,900 separate fires burned through the Brazilian Amazon, causing an international crisis and prompting warnings from scientists that the largest rainforest in the world was teetering on the point of no return. Last year’s surge in fires during the dry months of the Brazilian fire season was a 200% year-on-year increase, engulfing over 9,000 sqkm of the Amazon. The immediate reason behind the fires was the illegal burning of felled trees by farmers and ranchers in the region.

If people had hoped that the devastation of 2019 would be a one-off, this year’s fire season has come as a rude shock. According to data released by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), 29,307 fires burned in the Amazon this August. In Amazonas, one of the nine Brazilian states that is home to the rainforest, 7,600 fires have been detected in August, the highest since 1998.

Click here to listen to the Mint Climate Change Tracker podcast hosted by Bibek Bhattacharya

And that’s not all. The world’s largest tropical wetland, Pantanal, on the Brazil-Bolivia border, is also on fire. Over 150,000 sqkm in size, the wetland recorded 4,677 fires in August, the worst in 15 years, according to Inpe. A combination of a drought and record high temperatures has severely affected the wetland, making it susceptible to fires.

Just like last year, the Brazilian government, led by climate change-denying president Jair Bolsonaro, is facing charges of not doing enough to either battle the blazes or to stop deforestation. In July, the government had banned man-made fires for 120 days, but in early August, Bolsonaro had also called the fires raging in the Amazon “a lie".

To make matters worse, on 28 August, the country’s environment ministry announced that it is suspending operations to combat illegal deforestation and the burning of the Pantanal, citing a funds crunch.

It had come to light last year that the Amazon is heating up and drying out, and that over 17% of the forest has been lost to deforestation in the past 50 years. Since massive annual fires now seem to be the norm, it won’t be long till more than 20% of the Amazon is deforested. Scientists predict that when this happens, a tipping point would be reached, when the rainforest would be unable to recycle rain water, and wither away into grasslands.

Follow the series with #MintClimateTracker. Click here to listen to the Mint Climate Change Tracker podcast hosted by Bibek Bhattacharya

Bibek Bhattacharya
Bibek is the Deputy Editor of Mint Lounge. He writes on a variety of subjects, including climate change, science and culture. He is also occasionally hosts the Mint Climate Tracker podcast.
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