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Clear-cut risks: the Amazon degrades

The Economist: The Intelligence

21:26 min | 1 year ago

Clear-cut risks: the Amazon degrades

"<music> hello and welcome to the intelligence on economist radio. I'm your host jason palmer every weekday. Eh provide a fresh perspective. Only events shaping your world when malaysians voted last year to oust at the party that had been in power for six decades. They wanted change but after more than a year the repressive illiberal laws that characterized the party's rule are still on the books we ask why and the global rise in tourism takes different tolls in different destinations. We take a look at how norway away is dealing with one such effect. The growing scourge of fish smuggling first up though the amazon basin is home to the largest rainforest on earth it spans seven million square kilometers and crosses eight countries in south with america. It's key to the global climate and it's a storehouse of global life. The amazon is home to about ten or fifteen percent of world bio-diversity. Sir moslem brazil correspondent based in sao paulo. It's been a source of food and fuel for the people who live on for millennia and it's rained supports agriculture throughout the whole region of south america in recent decades. It's become increasingly clear here that the amazon is also crucial to the entire world. The ability of its choose to store carbon dioxide is one of the most important uh-huh protections we have left against global warming but since the nineteen seventies nearly a million square kilometers have been lost to logging farming mining gene roads dams and other forms of development. That's around seventeen percent. There was a brief respite for nearly a decade eight up until two thousand twelve when the rate of deforestation slowed but today it's again on the rise and the amazon is approaching a tipping point if too much of the rainforest has cut down it could cause the collapse of the amazon as we know it and there would be no going back. This risk is higher than ever sixty. Eighty percent of the rainforest sits within the borders of brazil and president jacques cousteau is hastening its destruction. His policies may precipitate an ecological collapsed that would be felt far beyond the country. He leads experts believe that if tree loss in amazon passes a certain threshold the deforestation will start to feed on itself beyond this tipping point for us cover will keep shrinking no matter what humans might try to do to stop stop it if that were to happen and the amazon transgressed that tipping point eventually much of the basin would become a sort dryer tropical savanna and so what's the nature of that tipping point what happens there so the amazon is unique among tropical rainforests in the extent to switch it produces its own reign as moisture travels from the atlantic to peru the amazon's trees recycle some of it. They paul rainwater up from the roots. It's to the canopy than it's released back into the atmosphere and falls as rain so this provides moisture and rainfall to the entire region region and the evaporation off the leaves also has a cooling effect throughout the basin and the theory basically says that if a certain part of the forest were to perish or degrade as a result of chopping up bits and pieces because of farming and mining and logging the loss of that water recycling capacity would mean that very little of the rest of the standing forest would have enough rainfall to survive. One of the pioneers of this hypothesis is carlos. Nobody senior researcher with the institute for advanced studies at the university of sao paulo. I asked tim where he believes. That tipping point lies how much of the forest would need to be gone before the water. Recycling system breaks down men is thirties including seen some of my own studies indicated that fraction of the amazon forest his around twenty to twenty five percent currently over the whole basing racing we have about fifteen sixteen percent of the amazon basin deforest and the nodar three four percents under seaview view degradation so at the current rates of deforestation we might cross the tipping point between fifteen and thirty years in the future and so if the amazon were to pass that tipping point what would the consequences be gradually over the course of something between thirty eighteen fifty years fifty sixty up to seventy percents of the amazon forest with its reach by diversity and it's it's very important element for climate storage of carbon would disappear we would lose a lot of carbon that carbon will end up in the atmosphere was fewer complicated even more global warming. If we exceeded it becomes a reversible. There is no way to go back. Even if we stop deforestation the amazon future is looking increasingly precarious. According to preliminary data from brazil space agency deforestation <unk> has accelerated at an alarming rate under the presidency of valuable sonata. This june's forest loss was eight percent higher than last june's. Mr bush auto called those data lies last week he fired the agency's director and while mr bolsonaro has not been able to put all his environmental policies into law is attitude does seem to be emboldening illegal loggers the brazilian congress and the courts have blocked some of his efforts to strip protection shen from parts of the amazon for example he wanted to abolish the environmental ministry entirely and put it under the ambit of the agricultural israel ministry and they struck that down but most scenarios also made it clear that rule breakers have nothing to fear he's recorded videos appearing to defend end illegal loggers and miners and he can still encourage a whole lot of deforestation by not enforcing the laws that prohibited but if seventeen seventeen percent of the rainforests has already been lost. Is it clear already that has impacts. Is it possible to see the slow slide yes so in the past few decades the temperature has risen across the basin about point six degrees celsius this century alone. There have been three devastating droughts. The last one happened to fall during an el nino year in when he fifteen and the increase temperatures from el nino meant that that drought out 'cause vast amounts fire. I went to one of the areas that was burned in two thousand fifteen something which sits on a tributary of the amazon amazon river if you go to the national forest where nearly a quarter burned even four years later you can see signs of the destruction there are still fallen trees all around the trees that are standing often have charred blackburn signs and appear to be drying out also scientists we were walking with told us that this used to all will be closed canopy forest and we walked on a path starting up the riverbank going deep into the forest and <hes> met some people who live in that area a move. My lemoyne visible say the first people people we encountered were an elderly couple named magdalena and antonio mouth. They said they used to make their living hunting deer armadillo but now they were on their way to buy beef from the village. They said basically all the game is gone. Ah gushed dying later on a community leader who gave a long list of all the tree species that are starting to disappear because of the fires in my office so what can be done now to to stop what's already happening in parts of the amazon. How can this blooming ecological collapse loudspeaker verdict so here in brazil it starts with enforcing the rules on deforestation brazil also needs to reject some of the recent efforts is to further weaken not legislation when brazil was in paris in two thousand fifteen it committed to completely stopping illegal deforestation for station by twenty thirty and actually reforesting one point two million square kilometers bolsonaro wanted to pull out of the paris agreement entirely following in the footsteps of donald trump but he backpedaled from that promise partly because his agriculture minister and other farmers argued that to do so could good result in boycotts of brazilian goods so that's actually a really important point of leverage. Brazil just signed the beginning of trade accord with in the e._u. And part of that involves upholding environmental protections and so there's a role to be played by diplomats what's and companies and consumers in outside of brazil to send the message that soybeans beef and other products coming from illegally logged land end are not acceptable so in your opinion i mean with this kind of set of prescriptions in hand. How likely is it. Do you think that the amazon will not reach the tipping point that mr bush ars agenda will not host the on past it pessimistic. Environmentalists are certain deforestation under bolsonaro will pass twenty percent so it's it's not a certain number but the attitude that he and his government have toward the amazon is one that almost certainly spells <unk> out more destruction and as the scientists tend to say there's no point in finding out where the tipping point lies by temping at this point. It looks like we're coming close sarah. Thank you very much for your time. Thanks jason in elections. Last year. Malaysia's reformist coalition pacatan harpoon japan or ph ousted regime that had been in power for six decades. The united malays national organisation or m no led by jebron talking doc built an elaborately repressive edifice to keep itself in power he h promised to end all that and malaysians seem swayed by his promises for change just just after the victory supporters of mature muhammad ninety four year old leader of ph took to the streets of kuala to celebrate but one year on many illiberal laws remain on the books is up to the task of rehabilitating militias democracy pakistan harapan came to power in a huge upset lost year and essentially it is a reformist coalition of parties party's miranda johnson are south east asia correspondent when ph was campaigning to come into power one of its main pitches to malaysians was that it would do away with a lot of the repressive laws that enabled on no snow to lock up critics. The trouble is that we are moving a year on since that election and many of the laws including merced troublingly this addition act still remain in place all of this matters overrule though because malaysia and the surprise is triumph of ph provided a piece of welcome good news in southeast asia which is region where we have seen democracy backsliding slighting in recent years there'd been problems in thailand me and ma and cambodia in particular so tell me more about these repressive laws. What kind kind of stuff is illegal in malaysia so things that you have to be careful about in malaysia <hes> in in the past is being too critical of malaysia's government being too critical typical of its core pointing out the problems in its system of racial preferences for malays. Who are the biggest ethnic group in the country. Do you have to be careful about what you say about. These sultans who run <noise> militias different states as a criticizing them could be deemed seditious basis as mentioned the sedition act is one of those for which people can find themselves in prison for a number of years also under mr najib's ed ministration a new law on fake news was adopted which challenged the press and what it could say about the poss- government and and so if pakistan harapan came to power on a promise to repeal these laws why hasn't it so it's tricky picture and in fairness to the p._h. It has called a halt to most not quite all of the prosecution's onto the laws that eight criticized while it was in in opposition but it has had a very full plate since it came to power and it has been particularly focused on the economy because bread combustion issues were among those that helped propel it into office in the first place so it's been looking at taxes. It's been looking at huge huge infrastructure projects that were agreed on renegotiating them but what critics said trying to point out is that if a lot of these laws are not repealed appealed it might mean that government critics in the future who could once again be h members were the government to lose the next election would again face difficult times in in prison and harassment of other soles but do you get the sense that's the people in power are committed to making can use reforms but perhaps they're just a bit distracted so one of the most interesting figures and all of this of course is latino muhammad who is the current prime minister but who used to be malaysia's prime minister for more than two decades under on knows flag he rhetorically abused the government's authority during his first stint as prime minister actually at one point he had over one hundred critics detained without charge but he does genuinely seem to have turned over a new leaf jeff has actually helped drive some of the more commendable achievements of ph that has included putting independent figures he goes and intelligent experts in important posts in the government and what about the voters that put in power. Surely they're raising a think about the fact that the central promises and being fulfilled. It's difficult to ascertain precisely why different groups in malaysia voted in pakistan in harapan malaysians certainly voted for the coalition against all expectations but again it may have been more to do with the the fact that they were fed up with the past government fed up with the corruption and fed up with the economic difficulties rather than that all malaysian suddenly wanted a greater push for civil liberties and so with that in mind. How important do you think it is that the government eventually does follow through and repeal appeal. Some of these repressive laws restoring political freedoms. It's not just one itim on a long to do. List is actually the reform. The underpins funds all others and pastime howard patents. Totally shocking. Victory is a once in a lifetime chance to make politics farrer malaysia. This is the best opportunity. The country's had for more than sixty years. If pakistan harapan can't get the economy he got it may wind up back in opposition for a few years but if it doesn't fundamentally restructure malaysia's democracy crecy laws that uphold it it may be out of office for a generation because ultimately that is what will best differentiate it from and from those years in power berendo. Thank you very much for joining us. Thank you so much jason. The most international borders the authorities look for anything fishy drugs and weapons cigarettes in norway. They're also actually looking for fish. What am i sound like the stuff of sea shanties fish smuggling is on the rise in has been over the last ten years or so glycated. He writes about european affairs for the economist in the first six months of this year toll which is always in customs agency agency sees about eight tons of fish and that compares to the height of the decade in two thousand seventeen of eleven and so current rates. It looks like that two thousand thousand seventeen high is going to be easily beating this year and so is this high seas piracy is this is this tourists. Is this <hes> international smuggling rings authorities. These weren't drawn on this. I did ask this question and they were quite cagey about it. A lot of people go on holiday to norway for active holidays and fishing is one of the main draws people people seeking that kind of experience but given the amounts of fish that the authorities are seizing at the borders significantly more than people are allowed to take and the other thing is that typically what the authorities is feeling is ready phyllis and that suggests that people taking fish processing it and then getting ready for sale overseas is not just tourists risk taking home stuff for their own consumption. I mean eleven tonnes as a sort of all time high doesn't actually sound like that much fish is in the grand scheme of things but in the trump and finns counties of northern norway fishing really is the mainstay of columbia. There's not much else there and if small fishing villages going to suffer at the hands of people taking away more fish than they are allowed then that might have an impact on those local communities it sounds like tourism in this region might be something of a mixed blessing absolutely well tourism and norway's relatively young phenomenon is only in the last ten years or so that the country's going from being quite to knee should've winter wonderland destination during tourists at all times of year people tend to go to norway in one or two ways on a cruise ship or an account prevent and neither means of transport tends to lend the visitor to spending an awful lot of money in the country so yes people visiting the country but they're not spending very much money <hes> and i spoke to one lady up in bolton which is an archipelago off the north west of the country especially beautiful and she didn't pull any punches she said look people are coming here and quite fed up of them leaving nothing but sheets and pollution so as you say mixed blessing and so what's to be done then about the <hes> the the fishy end of things as regards fishing was bought checks having greased and the fines of increased during talk now of introducing tourist tourist tax to deter tourists people are worried about during source but that's also kind of the point because if you deter those were the budget travelers let's let's say and you welcome those who approached willing to just like them that wallet some don't be so spendthrift than clearly reduce the problem of too many people visiting pristine places but he also solve the problem of people not spending any money guy. Thank you very much for joining us. Thanks very much and that's all for this episode of the intelligence. If you like us give us a rating on apple podcasts and you can subscribe to the economist at economist dot com slash slash radio offering twelve shoes for twelve dollars or twelve see back here tomorrow <music>.

amazon brazil Malaysia amazon basin jason palmer norway pakistan amazon river amazon basin deforest Mr bush sao paulo south america america jacques cousteau university of sao paulo tim peru