Pantanal fires linked to agricultural expansion and climate change

Pantanal fires linked to agricultural expansion and climate change
Pantanal fires linked to agricultural expansion and climate change

THE forest fires ravaging the Pantanalthe largest wetland on the planet, have been favored by drought due to climate change and agricultural expansion, estimates Brazilian expert Paulo Artaxo in an interview with AFP.

This physicist, professor at the University of Sao Paulo (USP) and member of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), urges the Brazilian authorities to implement all necessary means to prevent man-made fires.

Located in the south of the Amazon, the Pantanal, which extends mainly into Brazil, but also into Bolivia and Paraguay, is a biodiversity sanctuary that is home to thousands of species of plants and animals. Since the beginning of June, more than 1,700 fires have been identified in this region, a record since data collected by satellites began to be compiled by the Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE) in 1998. .

From January 1 to June 20, the INPE recorded 2,628 outbreaks in the Pantanal, more than during the first half of 2020, the year ended with the highest number of fires ever recorded in this biome. These figures are all the more alarming given that fires are usually more severe in the second half of the year, during the dry season.

What explains why there are already so many fires in the Pantanal?

“The Pantanal, like the entire central region of Brazil, is experiencing one of the worst droughts in history this year caused by climate change. But even though we have seen a big reduction in precipitation, it is important to emphasize that most of these fires are arson. They are seriously damaging the ecosystem.”

What is the role of the expansion of land devoted to crops and livestock in the region?

“We can say that all these fires are due to agricultural expansion.”

Is there a link between these fires and historic floods in southern Brazil, which experts also attribute largely to climate change?

“There is definitely a connection. A high pressure area (also known as an anticyclone) has stationed over the state of Sao Paulo (southeast) and that of Mato Grosso (central-west), where part of the Pantanal is located.

To the south (of this high), this amplified rainfall in the state of Rio Grande do Sul (which was devastated by unprecedented flooding last month). And in Mato Grosso, the volume of rain has been greatly reduced, causing drought and extreme temperatures conducive to the fires we are currently seeing.

What can be done to alleviate this problem of forest fires in Brazil?

“We must mobilize the Federal Police, the army, all the means available to Brazil to deter arson, which constitutes environmental crimes. It is possible to carry out controls by defining priority areas, where the propensity for these arsons is higher.

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