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GSD academics offer media comment on Brazilian fires


In an article recently published by the, Dr Alastair Smith and Dr Jess Savage comment on the impact and long-term implications of ongoing fires in the Amazon Rainforest.

The forest fires, which have devastated large areas of land, continue to burn. In the article, the fires are discussed as an 'environmental catastrophe', and it is noted that the US and Brazil have recently pledged a $100m (£80m) biodiversity conservation fund for the Amazon Rainforest.

In response to whether this contribution will be enough to guarantee the preservation of the Brazilian rainforest, Dr Alastair Smith considers how the losses of rainforest may have an impact on current levels of human development.

“Further losses of rainforest further reduce habitat that supports a diverse ecosystem, and in turn offers the planet essential ecosystem services – be these goods and materials, or the climate stability that has thus far allowed a safe operating space for current levels of human development.

“There’s a clear negative impact through the release of greenhouses gases and the reduced future capacity to absorb these.

“The loss of biodiversity reduces the naturally occurring resources so valuable for human development, including medical research.”

Dr Alastair Smith has since followed up on the issue, commenting on financial support provisions in such circumstances.

“Pledges of financial support are positive, although as we have seen with the climate change funding, they do not necessarily convert into actual financial transfers. It is essential that such offers are honoured”.

When assessing the long-term implications of the fires, Dr Jess Savage looks at the 'recovery threshold', and the situation which might arise if the threshold is surpassed.

“The first thing to understand is that some forest fires are natural, and actually very necessary for the health of our natural environment.

“The disturbance caused by fires such as these, drives a natural cycle of change which boosts biodiversity and is an essential component of natural processes in forest ecosystems.

“However, in this instance, the rate and extent of the fires threatens the ability of these essential systems to recover.

“If the damage remains under the recovery threshold, there will be a short-term impact on habitats and the animals that live there; but in time the system will recover, and the ecosystem services will be restored.

“If the recovery threshold is surpassed, it could mean long-term disruption to ecosystem function, and without specific, targeted habitat restoration programmes, the impacts of these fires will be detected globally.”

To read the article in full, please see here:

Sewell, Katie. "Amazon rainforest fires: Is the Amazon rainforest still burning?", 23 September 2019

Jess Savage
Dr Jess Savage
Senior Teaching Fellow, GSD
Alastair Smith
Dr Alastair Smith
Senior Teaching Fellow, GSD