In addition to deforestation, forest degradation provoked by human action is among the main sources of carbon emission. Fire and drought are the main factors responsible for future degradation, indicative of the gravity of climate change. Even if the Amazonian countries achieve the promised goal of zero deforestation in 2030, the degradation will continue, as David Lapola explains in an interview with InfoAmazonia.

While deforestation is widely studied, the processes of forest degradation are advancing silently, causing impacts that are just as grave, if not more so. “We’ve had our sights on the fish and we forgot to look at the cat. You have to keep an eye on the two things that are happening at the same time,” warns David Lapola of the Center of Meteorological and Climate Studies Applied to Agriculture (Cepagri) at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), lead author of the study that  was featured on the cover of Science last January, revealing that 38% of the standing forest has suffered some kind of degradation.

Developed by a group of 35 scientists, the study differentiates deforestation, which implies a change in the use of the soil – for instance in the conversion of the forest into farmland or pasture – from degradation, a process in which an area is still forested but gradually losing vegetation and without the same environmental services of an intact forest. 

Based on an analysis of data published between 2001 and 2018, the study delves into the causes and effects of forest disturbance throughout the entire Amazon region and shows the impacts of the four main drivers of degradation: fire, selective logging, drought and edge effects – alterations in the forest caused by deforested surrounding areas.