The Amazon rainforest is the world’s largest tract of intact forest and is home to over 24 million people in Brazil alone, including hundreds of thousands of indigenous people. The forest is essential to their survival, providing food, shelter and medicines, as well as playing an important role in their spiritual life of many. It is also the habitat of an estimated quarter of all known land or
freshwater species, including the jaguar, the pink river dolphin and several species of sloth.
In fact, the Amazon Basin is one of the richest places on the planet with regard to flora and fauna. It supports approximately 40,000 plant species, 427 mammals, 1,294 birds, 378 reptiles, 426 amphibians and some 3,000
species of fish. The Amazon Basin covers an area of approximately 6.5 million km² in nine South American countries, making up 5% of the Earth’s surface. It is home to the largest river system on the planet, containing about one-fifth of the world’s total volume of fresh water. Some 63% of the Amazon Basin (4.1 million km²) is inside Brazil’s borders. To date some 700,000km2 of Brazil’s Amazon forest has been deforested – equivalent to more than twice the area of Poland. some 18% of the Brazilian Amazon forest has
been lost within the past three decades.
As well as its incredible biological richness, the Amazon
plays an essential role in helping to control the entire planet’s atmospheric carbon levels. Its trees take up huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the air, helping to offset greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity.
The Amazon Basin is a vast carbon store, containing approximately 100 billion tonnes of carbon7 – over 10 times the global annual emissions from fossil fuel.
However, deforestation not only reduces the amount of carbon the forest can store, but also leads to emissions of greenhouse gases as cleared vegetation decays or is burnt to prepare the land for agriculture. It also leaves the remaining forest fragmented and vulnerable to further deforestation, commercial exploitation, invasive species and the impacts of climate change,
such as drought-induced fire. The more vulnerable a forest is to climate change, the greater the danger of its remaining carbon stocks being lost to the atmosphere. Deforestation therefore increases the risk of runaway