Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro opened the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. But he didn’t mention climate change in his speech, but according to Brazilian fact-checkers, he presented a dozen lies and half-truths. Of particular note was his claim that the Amazon fires, which have increased sharply since his tenure, were started by indigenous peoples and small farmers. Brazilian agribusiness, on the other hand, is said to comply with Brazil’s environmental laws.
Scientists have proven the opposite: the fires are mainly used to expand the areas for cattle pasture and soy cultivation. This is what the government even seems to be aiming for. Environment Minister Ricardo Salles has severely curtailed authorities fighting forest destruction and punished officials for cracking down on illegal loggers.
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The number of fires in September shows how dramatic the situation is: there were more fires in the first 14 days than in the entire month of 2019. Deforestation is also setting new records. The accelerated destruction of the Amazon rainforest, which is also occurring in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, is one of the greatest threats to the climate in South America and the Earth. Not because the forest is important for the production of oxygen, but because it is an enormous storage of CO2. And: the Amazon forest regulates the water balance in South America: the clouds that form above the treetops due to constant evaporation sometimes rain down thousands of kilometers away and supply large parts of South America with water.
The water cycle in the Amazon is at risk
Scientists have now determined that the loss of the forest leads to a decrease in cloud formation and thus an increase in drought in the south of Brazil. Should this trend increase, the consequences for the agriculture and water supply of metropolises like São Paulo are likely to be catastrophic. Experts suspect that the massive fires currently burning in the world’s largest wetland are the first harbingers of change. The rainy season at the beginning of the year was exceptionally weak, followed by months of drought and extreme heat.
Fire burns in the Brazilian National Park Chapada dos Veadeiros. There is also a fire in the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland area. Photo: dpa / Myke Sena
While drought and heat increase in some regions, torrential rains and devastating storms will increase elsewhere. Particularly in the Caribbean, it can be seen how sea level rise is endangering entire islands and large coastal areas. In the Andes, however, the glaciers are melting, which also endangers the water supply there. The biggest threat to the future of South America, however, is the deforestation of the Amazon forest. About 20 percent of the area has already been destroyed. When 25 percent is reached, the Amazon Rainforest will lose its ability to maintain its water cycle, according to a forecast. It would resign.
Permafrost is thawing in Siberia
The small Russian town of Verkhoyansk on the tundra of Siberia has gained some notoriety among meteorologists. Verkhoyansk calls itself the coldest city on Earth. Here in Yakutia, at 67 degrees latitude, there has been a weather station since 1869. In February 1892 minus 67.8 degrees was measured there. Another record was set on June 20, 2020: 38 degrees Celsius – plus. Never before has such a high temperature been measured in this region. In the first six months of this year, temperatures in Siberia were about five degrees above the long-term average. This was the result of an investigation by the World Weather Attribution initiative, which also involved the German weather service.
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In June alone, 56 megatonnes of CO2 were released. According to the study, temperature anomalies like Verkhoyansk’s can only be explained by climate change. Without human influence, a long period of more than five degrees higher temperatures would only occur every 80,000 years. In the meantime, however, the chance of such heat waves has increased by a factor of 600.
Rising temperatures are causing Siberia’s rivers to thaw much earlier than in the past. The ice of the northern seas retreats longer in time and geographically farther from the coasts. Thawing soil releases gases that were bound by permafrost in large areas. The temperature rise continues to accelerate. Forest fires break out in the higher areas.
Russia is still investing in the extraction of raw materials
They have always existed in Siberia, but have never been more devastating than they are now. President Vladimir Putin has imposed a state of emergency on large regions. In the areas spared by the fire, the Siberian silk moth benefits, eating its way through the forests. Trees die, which in turn increases the risk of forest fires. The fires are contributing to the rise in temperature. A vicious circle.
Despite warnings about the risks of climate change in the ecologically sensitive north, Moscow is sticking to the industrial development of the region for the extraction of raw materials. A year ago, the Ministry of Natural Resources passed through the State Duma a law extending the rights of oil and gas companies in the region without regard to climate change. In January, tax breaks of up to 200 billion euros were implemented for new business projects. Staatsoliebedrijf Rosneft presented the largest of these projects in the spring: Vostok Oil. 15 cities are being built in the region, plus 800 kilometers of pipelines and a new overseas port.
The ice caps are melting
The Antarctic Ice Sheet contains more than half of the world’s fresh water. The loss of mass as a result of the melting is irreversible – a research team from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) recently reported in the journal “Nature”. The warmer it gets, the faster the melting and flow of glaciers into the sea takes place. But the process is not linear. Exceeding certain threshold values determines how the ice masses behave and how much the sea level rises as a result.
If temperatures continued to rise by two degrees Celsius, masses of ice melting and sliding into the sea at the edge would raise sea levels worldwide by 2.5 meters. At four degrees it is 6.5 meters and at six degrees it is almost 12 meters, the team calculated. The ice loss is said to extend over many centuries, but the simulations show it would only be reversible if the Earth’s average temperature dips below pre-industrial levels. It’s not very likely.
In the summer of 2020, Greenland ice shrank slightly less than the previous year, but still significantly more than the average for the years 1981 to 2010, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported. And 2019 was a record year: More than 500 billion tons of meltwater flowed into the sea, which equates to a global sea level rise of 1.5 millimeters, researchers said. There are signs that melting is continuing, which could raise sea levels by more than seven meters in the long run.
And the sea ice? The ice cover of the Arctic Ocean is swimming. How big it is does not affect sea level. But here too the ice disappears. This summer, the sea ice cover has shrunk to about 3.8 million square kilometers to the second smallest area since 1979. The result: the dark sea surface absorbs more heat from the sun.