New Brunswick

Canada can help fight Amazon wildfires by controlling emissions, environmentalist says

A New Brunswick environmentalist living in Brazil says Canada can best help the Amazon rainforest by doing more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

'The whole large part of the Amazon could turn into more of a savanna region'

A burning tract of Amazon jungle is seen while as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Porto Velho, Brazil Aug. 23, 2019. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

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.

Mark Lutes, works for the World Wildlife Fund in São Paulo, Brazil. He is originally from Moncton. (CBC)

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.

Lutes said the best thing Canada can do is control its own emissions, while supporting and calling for action from developing countries.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pose during the G7 family photo Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019 in Biarritz. (The Associated Press)

"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.

Smoke billows from a fire in the Amazon rainforest near Humaita, in Amazonas state, Brazil, on Aug. 17, 2019. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

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

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.