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A healthy Amazon means a healthy world: The Amazon Conservation Association explains why

In this interview Ana Folhadella, Communications and Development Manager at Amazon Conservation Association, breaks down the environmental significance of the Amazon basin: from the way it regulates global temperature to the particular importance of protecting the headwaters of the Amazon.

Qara Editor: Can you explain in layman’s terms why the Amazon is essential for the health of our planet and for our survival as a species?

Ana Folhadella: We always say that a healthy Amazon matters to the people who live there, but also to the countries it encompasses and, ultimately, to the entire world.

It’s the single largest tropical rainforest in the world; it stores billions of metric tons of carbon, which is about a third of all the forests in the world. It’s crucial for climate mitigation, and to make sure that global warming doesn't continue to be an issue, that we keep this forest protected and healthy as much as humanly possible.

Also, we need to understand how essential the relationship between humans and nature is. Even if it feels like the Amazon is a forest that is far away, it can still have an effect on humans everywhere in the world. There are sources of potential diseases in the Amazon that need to be kept there, not in contact with humans, so we can prevent the next pandemic.

QE: The association works particularly in the headwaters of the Amazon. Why are they so important?

AF: It’s the birthplace of the Amazon! It’s not one specific river, it’s where all of those rivers are born; and that starts in the high altitude of the Andes, where the water trickles down to form the rivers.

There’s a multitude of factors that make the headwaters crucial for conservation. For starters, it holds irreplaceable biodiversity and has some of the highest levels of biodiversity of the entire world.

It is also the ancestral land of many of the uncontacted indigenous communities of the Amazon. There are over 100 indigenous communities that have been identified as living in the Amazon, and around a third of them live in the headwaters of the Amazon. We are working with the authorities to make sure those areas are protected, so these communities don’t have to worry about incursions into their lands or being infected with diseases, for example.

Also, the headwaters of the Amazon have some of the most productive forests in the world. Because of its high altitude, the area becomes one of a super high concentration of goods like Brazil nuts, açai berries and palma real, which can be harvested sustainably —so the area can be considered an economic engine for local communities.

The whole Amazon is a climate regulator for the world, but the headwaters is where scientists can take advantage of the gradient and altitud to really understand how climate change is affecting the rainforest. For example, a study being conducted by one of our board members has been showing that the trees in this area are moving up-slope because of the increasing temperatures. This shows how climate change is affecting the forest and the whole ecosystem, not just the animals, but also the plantlife and the people that live there.

QE: Can you explain how the Amazon helps regulate the temperature of the world?

AF: The Amazon rainforest stores around 150 billion metric tons of carbon, and it absorbs about 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year, which is about 5% of the entire world's annual emission. So the forest is not only absorbing the carbon that is being produced by human activity, it also stores carbon that is already in the system. That means that if we cut down the forest we are not only making it so that forests cannot absorb carbon, but we are actually emitting carbon as well.

The importance of this in terms of climate change is to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Therefore, if we are protecting the forest from deforestation, and making sure to help reforest any damaged areas, that means we are doing two things at once, in a single place, to help with climate change.

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