Forests and the plant coverage in general that the planet loses leaves it without its protective shield in face of greenhouse effect gases (GEG) linked to global warming.
Since 1990 –10 years after sounding the first world alarms of what was happening on Earth –the world has lost 420 million hectares of forests due to deforestation. To understand the size of this, one can say that one hectare can house close to 140 oil palm trees.
This forest destruction, as estimated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is due to the expansion of the agricultural frontier for cattle ranching and monocultures, the progress of the extractive industry, illegal cropping, illegal wood marketing, forest fires (especially provoked by man), displacement processes, water powerplants, and infrastructure projects.
These are factors that take away from the planet thousands of hectares of forest, bush, and grasslands, among others, and the greatest CO2 capturers, one of the main gases causing agents of the greenhouse effect or global warming.
What is most concerning is that despite the world summits to control world temperature increase, including the Kyoto Agreement and all the world’s summits since Copenhagen in 2009 to the latest COP26, which recently ended in Glasgow, the deforestation figures continue to be high. Maybe, as FAO claims the process has slowed down in some regions but annually the plant coverage continues to be depleted.
According to the Colombian Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies Institute (IDEAM, for its Spanish acronym), Colombia loses around 150,000 hectares of forest due to deforestation but scientists such as Professor Jesús Orlando Rangel of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) Natural Sciences Institute (ICN, for its Spanish acronym), says “we lose more than 300,000 hectares of forests a year and the trend continues to increase, deforestation never ceases, just when there are wars, because people leave and do not intervene.”
This information matches international reports, such as the World Resources Institute, which claims that in 2020, Colombia lost 320,000 hectares of natural forests, equivalent to 195 million tons of CO2.
For UNal Professor and Director of the Landscape Ecology and Ecosystems Modeling Research Group (Ecolmod, for its Spanish acronym), Biologist Dolors Armenteras, a fifth part of the Amazon basin –equivalent to more than a million square kilometers– has been deforested. “In Colombia, the area deforested is equivalent to 12%, which is the eighth part less of what occurs in the basin. Perhaps the only natural region in better condition is Colombia but it’s all relative,” she says.
And although the country does not participate in great part against polluting sources such as the steel industry, which is more common in developed countries, it is responsible for contaminating and the loss of forest coverage, which has a key function of offsetting emissions. “When we contaminate, we produce more organic matter, we alter the cycles; just take a look at the Bogotá River or lost marshlands,” regrettably says Rangel.
“We need to protect the forests but unfortunately, in delegations of countries like ours that go to environmental summits, scientists are not invited, just politicians who are not aware of the issues and cannot speak about them. The country cannot continue to the sway of speculations and the communion between academics and decision-makers is key,” he says.
Another of the great factors of loss of plant coverage is linked to forest fires, that although in some occasions are due to natural climate cycles, mostly, they are due to human reasons.
According to Armenteras, who has researched forest fires for 20 years, 99.9% of them are produced by the hand of man.
“The Amazon has been burning for many years; there are many fires with different impacts, with climate change there are more droughts and the dry season lasts more and these can cause more fires, a situation that is concerning,” she said.
The processes of extraction of natural capital are subscribed to the transformation of the habitat, they decimate communities, the original composition is lost and this has strong repercussions, say the academics, for who ecosystem transformation due to deforestation goes from draining conditioned areas to flooding unconditioned zones for water.
When this occurs the processes of species that do not dominate the region are established, the different plant formations that will experiment with very drastic variations in their floristic composition are at risk, which will be reflected in the fauna that is displaced or becomes extinguished.
Ecosystems such as mangroves, high-Andean forests, and Andean tundras are amongst the most vulnerable in the face of drastic temperature and soil changes, as evidenced by the doctoral thesis of Biologists and UNal Professor Mary Lee Berdugo and other international research projects.
Although the research project did not include a projection, nor predict a model of what will happen with climate change, it is a reference framework to try to understand that every ecosystem has a special condition, said Dr. Berdugo.
These types of research projects will produce two analyses over ecosystems, those that can survive and those that will die, such as Andean tundras, if the temperature rises 2 °C (35.6 °F) the dynamics will change and they will not adapt. “In our case, if the Andean tundras do not have vegetation, we will not have water,” said Rangel.
According to Berdugo’s research project, perhaps the most threatened forests in the country are dry ecosystems because they interact most with humans, such as those surrounding the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta and Zapatosa, where there is wood extraction for firewood and cattle ranching.
Without a doubt, the alarms around the world over the urgency of preserving and restoring forests have produced a reduction of the deforestation trend, although not as is expected.
Between 2015 and 2020, the annual deforestation rate was estimated at 10 million hectares, in face of a rate of 12 million hectares between 2010 and 2015.
Precisely, one of the commitments of COP26 is the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, where 137 countries committed to collectively end the loss of forests and Earth degradation for 2030.
In Colombia, the increase of natural reserves looms as a trend to amplify the areas of the country protected against deforestation, although this has not been enough.
As Armenteras warns, they are starting to see external threats, as they not only need to create protected areas but go beyond, maintaining the dialogue with rural-peasant communities– Indians and black populations– who with their participation can achieve sustainable use of the soil. These are what are known as multi-functional sustainable landscapes, which are supported by diverse agricultural practices but preserving nature.
For this, the academics coincide in saying, “we need more strategies because there are many variables that influence deforestation and that have been identified in the last five decades, due to the increased population, which brings more cattle farming, more monocultures, more infrastructure, crops, and legal and illegal businesses.”
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