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Regional Cooperation Essential for Dealing with Amazon Fires, Expert Says

MONTEVIDEO – The head of the Ecosystems Division of the FAO’s Forestry Department, Mette Loyche Wilkie, said that regional cooperation is essential for combating the latest blaze that broke out in the Amazon rainforest because fires don’t respect borders.

In an interview with EFE, the expert of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that the wildfires engulfing the Amazon region have had a devastating effect “on the environment, on the health of people and on their livelihoods.”

Along that line, Wilkie, who took part this week in the 31st Meeting of the Latin American and the Caribbean Forestry Commission (LACFC) in Montevideo, said that during the conference her group worked with the governments of the region on ways to fight these fires in the future.

“The first thing to do there is of course to review why they are happening, where they are happening... there’s a process here in place with four or five steps that need to be taken to see how we can get to a place where we have a better management of the forests and integrated fire management strategies,” she said.

The Danish expert, who has worked in forestry management for over 20 years, also noted that while these fires are now in the international spotlight, they break out every year, “very often toward the end of the dry season” when, for example, crop remains are cleared away by burning.

“In a few cases they’re also happening because of lightning. So there are many different causes behind the fires and many different approaches on how to deal with the fires when they start,” she said.

Asked about the responsibility of Brazil and its government, accused by environmental organizations of neglecting the conservation of the Amazon region, Wilkie noted that these problems are not limited to a single country.

“This is something that is happening within national borders but also across borders because fires know no borders, so you often have them spreading from one country to another so the regional cooperation is essential in this regard,” she said.

Wilkie added that, given that Latin America is so rich in woodland, she would advise countries to stick to a sustainable forest management and above all to find alternatives, since wood can be substituted by other materials to avoid deforestation.

At the same time, the FAO official said that considering the Amazon region one of the world’s largest forest areas, when something happens there on a large scale it has an enormous impact not only on human health because of the smoke that billows into the cities, but on the environment as well.

Wilkie estimated that in the same way wildfires affect the biodiversity of the region, they also contribute to global warming, since when the trees burn they release vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“The deforestation, the degradation of forests, changes in land uses account for about 24 percent of all the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gas, so is a huge issue in the climate change cycle,” the specialist said.

Nonetheless, she added that such occurrences might astonish people enough to take the appropriate measures, because if deforestation is reduced and ecosystems are restored, greenhouse gases that damage the atmosphere can be reduced by some 30 percent.

On that point, Wilkie said that the United Nations, starting with El Salvador’s proposal backed by 70 countries, will identify the period between 2021 and 2030 as the decade for restoring ecosystems, which could be positive for creating new habitats, generating jobs and fighting climate change.

At any rate, the expert considered that at the current state of commitment by the world’s governments, the planet is not even close to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent, which is the goal for 2030, and said that everyone everywhere must get involved, even with such small deeds as planting a tree.

For Wilkie, the student movement against climate change, which has as a model the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and which demands more action, is very hopeful.

“It has been very encouraging to see how engaged the young generation is in making changes and how much they are asking us to act and act now and we really need to do that,” Wilkie said.

From Sept. 2-6, LACFC debated in Montevideo FAO’s work projects in forestry matters for the Latin American region with a view to the 2019 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25) to be held in Chile in December.


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