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Amazon rainforest in big trouble, says UN

Economic development could doom the Amazon warns a comprehensive new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).



The report — titled GEO Amazonia [PDF-21.3MB | ZIP] — is largely a synthesis of previously published research, drawing upon studies by more than 150 experts in the eight countries that share the Amazon.



GEO Amazonia notes that by 2005, accumulated deforestation in Amazonia was 857,666 square kilometers or 17 percent of the region’s original forest cover. Most of the loss has been driven by conversion for cattle pasture, but industrial agriculture and plantations have become increasingly important forms of land use in the region, especially in the Brazilian Amazon. Development has been facilitated by government policies that promote colonization of forest lands as well as infrastructure projects — including a 10-fold increase in roads in the Brazilian Amazon between 1975 and 2005.




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The report warns that deforestation, degradation, and fragmentation are already having ecological impacts, including air pollution, increased incidence of fire, and reduced availability of water and forest resources in some areas. It says that lack of coordinated management has made it difficult to address these problems.



The report devotes an extensive section to the future of Amazonia, including the potential impact of climate change. It appears to rely heavily on a series of studies led by Daniel Nepstad, an ecologist formerly of the Woods Hole Research Institute but now with the Moore Foundation. Nepstad has warned that the interacting impacts of deforestation and climate change could destroy half the Amazon within 20 years.



“Climate change is putting pressure on the Amazonian ecosystems making them more vulnerable,” UNEP said in a statement.



To avoid the worst outcomes from forest loss and climate change, the report calls for Amazon nations to develop a “unified Amazonian environmental vision” and define the region’s role in development.



“Countries sharing this rich yet fragile ecosystem have recently developed strategies for conservation and sustainable development, but they have yet to develop a unified Amazonian environmental vision,” write Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, and Francisco J. Ruiz, Acting Secretary General of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization in the forward of the report.








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55% of the Amazon may be lost by 2030
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