Canada can help fight Amazon wildfires by controlling emissions, environmentalist says
'The whole large part of the Amazon could turn into more of a savanna region'
A New Brunswick environmentalist living in Brazil says Canada can best help the Amazon rainforest by doing more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Mark Lutes works for the World Wildlife Fund in São Paulo, Brazil. The Moncton native said there have been more fires and deforestation in the jungle this year than in the past 10 years, but the difference between now and 2010 is that a historic drought isn't to blame.
"It's not atmospheric conditions this time," said Lutes. "Everything indicates that they're being started deliberately to expand farming and ranching areas, often illegally in the Amazon."
While the fires themselves are man-made, Lutes said, the implications of losing such a large swath of forest make reducing carbon dioxide emissions across the globe more important than ever.
He's concerned the damage from these fires will return the rainforest to a state of almost 20 years ago, when agriculture was pushing farther and farther into the region.
"The danger is this could become a long-term trend that again will go back to where a huge swath of the Amazon [is] being eaten up by farmland every year," he said.
Controlling emissions at home
At the G7 summit Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would send water bombers and $15 million in aid to help Brazil and other South American countries fight the wildfires ravaging the Amazon.
- As forest fires rage, experts worry about the future of the Amazon
- As Amazon burns, Trudeau calls for world leaders to do more to protect the environment
Lutes said the best thing Canada can do is control its own emissions, while supporting and calling for action from developing countries.
"If Canada doesn't, as a rich, developed country … get its own emissions going sharply downward, it loses its credibility."
Lutes pointed to New Brunswick in particular as one of the provinces pushing back on the federal government's efforts to reduce emissions through a carbon tax.
Risking loss of rainfall
Emissions also pose a threat to the Amazon's biodiversity and rainfall production
"Rising greenhouse gas emissions, of course, mean rising temperatures, more severe climate impacts, disruptions around the world and the loss of biodiversity from these hugely rich tropical rainforests," said Lutes.
The Amazon rainforest pumps billions of tons of vapour into the atmosphere that waters not only the Amazon region, but areas thousands of miles away in the main agricultural centre of Brazil.
Lutes said the state of the forest is reaching a point where there is a risk that rainfall will be significantly reduced.
"Then the whole large part of the Amazon could turn into more of a savanna region and we lose those forests," he said.
With files from Harry Forestell