February 19, 2009

Economic Demands Threaten Amazon

The Amazon continues to lose more forest due to excess strain from accelerating rates of industrialized growth in the region, according to a report issued by the United Nations on Wednesday.

Supported by the UN Environment Program and the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO), the GEO Amazonia report shows troubling signs of deforestation due to poorly planned human settlements.

As of 2005, "857,666 square kilometers of the forest had been transformed, reducing vegetation cover by approximately 17 percent, equal to two-thirds of Peru or 94 percent of Venezuela," according to the UN.

Since then, the rate of deforestation has decreased. However, an additional 11,224 square kilometers (4,333 square miles) of forest disappeared in Brazil in 2007.

Deforestation in the region is being driven by foreign markets' conquests for timber, cash crops and beef, and unprecedented levels of pollution, according to the report, which used data from more than 150 experts in eight nearby countries.

"Our Amazonia is changing at an accelerated rate with very profound modifications in its ecosystems," the eight Amazonian countries declared in the GEO Amazonia report.

The region today holds some 35 million people, nearly 65 percent of them in cities, including three with more than one million inhabitants, according to the AFP.

The report recommended that Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela should take part in a coordinated effort for sustainable use of the iconic rainforest's ecosystems.

"If the loss of forests exceeds 30 percent of the vegetation cover, then rainfall levels will decrease," the report said. "This will produce a vicious circle that favors forest burning, reduces water vapor release and increases smoke emissions into the atmosphere."

The UN also announced that Copenhagen, which will host the crucial UN Climate Change Conference in less than 300 days, has become the 100th member of the Climate Change Network (CN Net), which is aimed at bringing "a wide range of participants, including countries, cities, major international companies, UN agencies and leading non-governmental organizations (NGOs)," according to the UNEP.

"One year on, the unfolding financial and environmental crises make the CN Net more relevant than ever before as a showcase of both the promise and viability of the low-carbon development model which goes hand-in-hand with the emerging Green Economy initiatives around the globe," UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said at the agency's annual Governing Council meeting in Nairobi.

The report also noted a threat to water resources in the region where about 20 percent of the world's fresh water flows each year.

"Climate change and extreme (weather) events are putting pressure on the Amazonia ecosystems and making it more vulnerable," the UNEP said in a statement.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) today also urged the world maritime shipping fleet to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions of seaborne vessels, adding that dealing with climate change is a priority that should not be undermined by other concerns such as the current global financial crisis.

"With 80 percent of the volume of international trade being carried by sea, shipping - the cornerstone of globalized trade - has a role to play in addressing this challenge," said the UNCTAD.


Image Caption: Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest threatens many species of tree frogs, which are very sensitive to environmental changes (pictured: Giant leaf frog). Courtesy Wikipedia


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