THE Amazon rainforest could die within 49 years, according to a new scientific study published today.

The same study shows that Caribbean coral reefs would take fewer than 15 years to collapse completely, but it is the Amazon which is causing most concern as rapid deforestation, nearly all of it at human hands, could turn the rainforest which lies mostly in Brazil into a grassy savannah, completely altering the world’s largest rainforest ecosystem.

Scientists from the University of Southampton, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the University of Bangor studied data on the transformations of 40 natural environments on land and in waters.

The team discovered that whilst larger ecosystems took longer to collapse – due to their sheer size – the rate at which the transformation occurred was significantly faster than the pace of change for smaller systems.

In other words, big places like the Amazon rainforest suffer change and possible extinction faster than anybody thought.

Professor John Dearing of the University of Southampton, above, who led the study published in the journal Nature Communications, said: “The messages here are stark. We need to prepare for changes in our planet’s ecosystems that are faster than we previously envisaged.”

“Unfortunately, what our paper reveals is that humanity needs to prepare for changes far sooner than expected,” Dr Simon Willcock, a joint lead author on the study, from Bangor University‘s School of Natural Sciences, said.

“These rapid changes to the world’s largest and most iconic ecosystems would impact the benefits which they provide us with, including everything from food and materials, to the oxygen and water we need for life.”


IN a word, deforestation – usually caused by humans clearing trees for crops and animal rearing, but sometimes by wildfires. At some time in the near future, the process of deforestation will reach a tipping point and the Amazonian ecosystem will start to unravel.

The study found once this tipping point is reached, the deterioration occurs at a faster pace than smaller systems and ecosystems that have lasted millions of years, as is the case with the Amazon, could be destroyed in fewer than 50 years.

The trouble is that nobody knows when the Amazon’s tipping point will be reached. It may already have happened. Nearly a million hectares of forest within the Amazon rainforest was lost to fires in 2019.

Scientists claim that the fires caused huge excesses of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the atmosphere, threatening adverse permanent impacts on the Amazon rainforest and the indigenous tribes that live there.


NO, though almost everyone agrees that the Amazon rainforest is under real threat and something needs to be done to preserve it. Erika Berenguer, a senior research associate at the University of Oxford, right, told Reuters: “It is very unlikely, if not dystopian, to expect that an area half the size of Europe will experience a complete shift in vegetation in just 50 years.

“While there is no doubt that the Amazon is at great risk and that a tipping point is likely, such inflated claims do not help either science or policy-making.”

The National: The Amazon continues to burn after Brazil elected climate-change denier Jair Bolsonaro as presidentThe Amazon continues to burn after Brazil elected climate-change denier Jair Bolsonaro as president

Not surprisingly, Prof Dearing disagrees. He said: “These findings are yet another call for halting the current damage being imposed on our natural environments that pushes ecosystems to their limits.”


LET the World Wildlife Fund explain: “The Amazon rainforest has long been recognised as a repository of ecological services not only for local tribes and communities, but also for the rest of the world. It is also the only rainforest that we have left in terms of size and diversity.

“But as forests burn and global warming worsens, the impact of Amazon deforestation continues to gradually undo the fragile ecological processes that have been refined over millions of years.

“Under natural conditions, plants remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and absorb it for photosynthesis, an energy-creating process that yields oxygen, which is released back into the air, and carbon, which allows the plant to grow.

“So, without tropical rainforests the greenhouse effect would likely be even more pronounced, and climate change may possibly get even worse in the future.

“With the forests gone, CO2 is no longer transformed through photosynthesis and the crops that replace forests only absorb a fraction of CO2 compared to rainforests. Along with industrial pollution, rampant deforestation in South America and elsewhere has significantly increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.”

CO2 is one of the deadliest of the greenhouse gases. While the whole sane world now knows that it causes climate change, the burning of Amazonian trees is accelerating the changes.


SCIENTISTS have warned that if the 50-million-year-old Amazon rainforest continues to disappear at the current rate, South America will become much hotter and drier and parts of the continent might well become uninhabitable.

No-one knows exactly what the effects would be on the rest of the world, but we would still be able to breathe as oxygen in the atmosphere won’t run out.

There will likely be more rainfall, however, affecting Europe as well as South and North America.

The planet would also lose some of the millions of different species that populate the rainforest.


THAT will be the Brazilians who elected climate-change denier President Jair Bolsonaro, who told the United Nations that the Amazon “remains pristine and virtually untouched”.

He also said the situation had been exaggerated by “sensationalist attacks” in the media.

He added: “The Amazon is not being devastated nor is it being consumed by fire, as the media is falsely portraying. Do not hesitate to visit Brazil.”

Funnily enough, he has a friend in the White House… When French president Emmanuel Macron criticised Bolsonaro but also offered the help of the G7 group of leading economies, Donald Trump came to the defence of the Brazilian leader.

The USA won’t sign up to Macron’s plan, with Trump tweeting: He is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil — not easy. He and his country have the full and complete support of the USA.”

How reassuring...