Forest Fires Destroying Buffer Against Warming
BRAZIL (AFP) -- With fierce blazes raging in jungles from
the Amazon to Indonesia, concerns are mounting about the
impact as rainforests play a vital role in protecting the planet
against global warming.
The latest serious outbreak is in Indonesia, where smog-belching fires started to clear land for agriculture are burning out of
control, blanketing the region in toxic smog.
Why are rainforests important in fight against global warming?
Mankind’s reliance on fossil fuels usually receives much of the
blame for climate change but scientists say that deforestation has
also played a big role.
Forests are natural buffers against climate change, as they suck
greenhouse gas carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
But forests worldwide have been logged on an industrial-scale
over the decades for timber and to make way for agricultural
Burning of large expanses of trees also releases huge amounts
of carbon dioxide.
At the peak of Indonesia’s 2015 forest fires -- the worst in the
country for two decades -- the country spewed more greenhouse
gases into the atmosphere each day than all U.S. economic activity for the same period, according to environmental watchdog the
World Resources Institute (WRI).
How much of Indonesia’s rainforests have been destroyed?
Greenpeace estimates that in the past 50 years, more than 74
million hectares (182 million acres) of Indonesia’s biodiverse
rainforests -- an area twice the size of Germany -- have been
chopped down, degraded or burned.
They have often been destroyed to make way for plantations
for the lucrative palm oil and pulpwood industries, particularly
on Sumatra and Borneo islands, with fires often started illegally
to clear land.
Indonesia suffers forest fires annually but this year’s appear to
be the worst since 2015. The country’s disaster agency estimates
that from January to August, about 328,000 hectares (810,000
acres) of land was burned.
The country has however managed to slow the rate of deforestation in recent years.
Why are they burning and can it be stopped?
Farmers and plantation owners are usually blamed for starting
the fires as a quick and cheap way to clear land.
Major companies typically deny starting blazes and instead
point to small-scale farmers and villagers. The most serious fires
occur in peatlands, which are highly combustible when drained
of water to be converted into plantations.
The situation this year has been worsened by drier weather in
Indonesia. Authorities have deployed thousands of security forces to battle the blazes but most believe only the start of the rainy
season -- usually in October -- will douse them.