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Taking Charge: Three Actions to Help Combat Climate Change and Save Amazonia

The Amazon rainforest, also called Amazon jungle or Amazonia, is a moist broadleaf tropical rainforest in the Amazon biome that covers most of the Amazon. Credit: CIAT/Neil Palmer

NEW YORK, Apr 4 2024 (IPS) - Climate change is the defining crisis of our time––it is the ultimate equalizer from which no one is immune. The Earth’s ecosystems are on the brink of collapse, threatening biodiversity and human societies in unprecedented ways at a global scale.

The planet is currently experiencing the warmest years on record, accompanied by a rise in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. As a “threat multiplier,” the climate crisis will continue to exacerbate already existing challenges.

These challenges include the alteration of 75% of the land surface and 55% of the ocean, the destruction of 32 million hectares of tropical forests between 2010 and 2015, and the thousandfold increase in species extinction rates.

These interconnected crises, linked to culture, education, economics, politics, and the environment, pose an urgent existential threat to humanity.

Amazonia plays a crucial role in the global fight against climate change. Home to approximately 47 million people, 2.2 million of whom are Indigenous, and housing more than 10% of the planet’s biodiversity, it stands as the world’s largest river basin and megadiverse tropical forest.

This region serves as a global repository of natural resources, providing essential ecosystem services to the entire planet, including water and nutrient recycling, mediation of infectious diseases, ecotourism, and food production.

Amazonian forests act as a colossal “air-conditioner,” reducing land surface temperatures and generating rainfall. They influence atmospheric circulation within and outside the tropics through the maintenance of aerial rivers, shaping moisture patterns across South America and contributing to the largest river discharge on Earth.

Furthermore, Amazonia helps regulate global biogeochemical and atmospheric cycles, serving as a key buffer against climate change by storing about 150-200 billion tons of carbon in its soils and vegetation.

Yet, the region faces intense extraction processes endangering its ecosystems and peoples. Deforestation, habitat fragmentation, the overexploitation of natural resources, the expansion of large-scale infrastructure, and pollution (particularly mercury pollution) pose significant threats to Amazonia’s rich socio-biodiversity.

Moreover, Amazonia is approximately 1.1°C warmer than it was 40 years ago, and the increased frequency of extreme climate events, like the recent record-breaking droughts, are wreaking havoc on Amazonian terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and local communities. These factors place the region’s plants and animals at high risk of extinction, undermine carbon storage and sequestration, and diminish resilience.

If current trends continue, Amazonia will be pushed closer to crossing a point of no return, or “tipping point,” a state in which continuous forests can no longer exist and are replaced by degraded, open canopy ecosystems.

Crossing a tipping point would unleash potentially irreversible cascading effects, accelerating global warming, leading to decreased aerial rivers, droughts and heatwaves in central South America, and mass species extinctions.

Addressing the climate and biodiversity crises––including by conserving Amazonia and preventing it from reaching a tipping point––requires implementing solutions that match the magnitude of the challenges faced.

Achieving a “Living Amazon,” reaching climate stability and protecting biodiversity, requires urgent action across multiple scales to limit the rise in global temperatures by mid-century and eliminate deforestation, degradation, and wildfires in Amazonia by 2030.

The complexity of these crises cannot be addressed by placing the sole responsibility on governments and industry. Doing so demands both bottom-up and top-down actions, systemic transformations of our production and consumption systems, and significant restoration efforts.

Actions at the individual, household, and community levels have been proven to be more impactful than many realize. While individuals often feel hopeless about their ability to influence change on a large scale, the collective impact of individual behavior change, when adopted by billions of people, can make a decisive difference.

Here, three impactful actions are presented that individuals can integrate into their daily lives to help combat climate change and save Amazonia.

Action 1: Adopting Mindful Daily Habits

Simple daily choices can influence the health of Amazonia. Minimizing food waste and switching to plant-based meals cuts emissions alleviates pressure on forests and land used for cattle ranching and animal feed production, aiding in the fight against deforestation.

By being aware of product origins, individuals can also support responsible sourcing practices and sustainable value chains that benefit both the environment and local communities in Amazonia. Through these actions, individuals help bolster socio-bioeconomies and empower Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs).

Action 2: Expanding Knowledge of the Amazon

Engaging with educational resources, like the Science Panel for the Amazon (SPA)’s massive open online course, “The Living Amazon: Science, Cultures and Sustainability in Practice,” can deepen individuals’ understanding of the threats the Amazon faces and how to be part of the solution.

Action 3: Advocate for Amazonia

Raising awareness and advocating for policies promoting conservation, Indigenous rights and knowledge, and sustainable development are crucial to protecting Amazonia and addressing climate change. This includes advocating for the implementation of nature-based solutions, such as the Arcs of Restoration, a socio-bioeconomy of healthy standing forests and flowing rivers, and the bioindustrialization of forest products.

Supporting political candidates who prioritize climate action, environmental conservation, and the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities can also play a critical role in the development of policies and regulations that conserve Amazonia in the years to come.

When reflecting on this upcoming Earth Day (on April 22) the challenges facing the planet, it is essential to remember that systemic change begins with individual actions. The actions outlined here––adopting mindful daily habits, expanding knowledge, and advocating for Amazonia––collectively form a powerful force for positive change.

Together, these actions symbolize a shared commitment to a more sustainable future, where Amazonia and the planet can thrive.

Julie Topf is Program Associate, UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Gabriela Arnal is Communications Consultant, Science Panel for the Amazon.

IPS UN Bureau


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