Why do we need to protect the Amazon rainforest and how can we help?

Few will wear the gold that is destroying the rainforest, but many will live with the consequences - as ITV News US Correspondent Emma Murphy reports

The Amazon rainforest is being cut down at an alarming rate, with an area equivalent to 2,000 football pitches destroyed destroyed every day.

It spells disaster not just for the local, indigenous population, but also for the world too as countries in every continent grapple with the impact of climate change.

Dr Mike Barrett, Executive Director of Science and Conservation at WWF, explains below why it is essential to protect the Amazon rainforest - and what could happen if we fail.

What role does the destruction of the Amazon play in climate change?

The Amazon is of vital importance because people around the world, as well as locally, depend on the rainforest - not just for food, water, wood and medicines, but to help stabilise the climate.

Dr Mike Barrett explains the importance of the Amazon rainforest.

Record-breaking temperatures will become the norm if we don’t protect our precious landscapes that help stabilise our global climate.

The Amazon helps regulate the climate at a local and regional level through the moisture it releases. In areas where the forest has been degraded a drying in the atmosphere has been recorded.

The Amazon also plays a crucial role in the global fight against climate change. It contains half the world’s tropical forest and stores billions of tonnes of carbon.

All of the science modelling to avert dangerous global climate change requires a functioning Amazon rainforest. That’s a key reason why we must urgently protect this precious habitat.

Why is it important to preserve the Amazon rainforest?

South America’s Amazon contains nearly half of all the tropical rainforests left on Earth. Despite covering only around 1% of the planet’s surface, the Amazon rainforest is home to 10% of all the wildlife species we know about – and probably a lot that we don’t know yet.

Few will wear the gold that is destroying the rainforest, but many will live with the consequences - as Emma Murphy reports

Our research shows that, on average, a 'new' species of animal or plant is being discovered in the Amazon every three days. However, tragically, because huge parts of the rainforest are being destroyed so fast, we may never know all the riches it holds.

As much as 200 billion tonnes of carbon is stored in the Amazon rainforest, and the trees in the Amazon also release 20 billion tonnes of water into the atmosphere per day, playing a critical role in global and regional carbon and water cycles.

The Amazon is under siege like never before. Deforestation and fire are once again on the increase, and protected areas and indigenous lands face increasing threats.

There is evidence that multiple land use and environmental pressures are pushing the Amazon rainforest towards a point where large areas of the forest could die off. It needs our help more than ever. We cannot tackle the climate crisis without the Amazon’s vital life-sustaining role.

What are the main contributors to deforestation in the Amazon?

The Amazon is under threat from deforestation, which has accelerated in recent years.

Trees are being cut down in order to extract minerals and farm the land. This includes seizing land illegally from local communities and Indigenous peoples. The primary driver is money.

There is nothing to stop the produce from these deforested lands being sold, including on the international market. This will continue until we act to prevent deforesting commodities being traded and imported. We need a system that supports the trade in sustainably produced commodities by removing unfair competition from illegal and unsustainable produce.

How does illegal gold end up in Britain?

Our supply chains are complex and, in reality, it is very difficult to say exactly how much gold imported to the UK from Brazil comes from illegal sources.

However, given the prevalence of illegal gold mining in Brazil, and as that the UK imports gold worth millions from Brazil each year, it is a near certainty that much of the Brazilian gold entering the UK is illegally sourced and has helped drive deforestation, pollution and human rights abuses.

How do you know if the gold you are buying is from illegal sources?

Unfortunately, without adequate regulation and checks in Brazil and throughout the entire supply chain, it is extremely difficult to confirm if gold is legally or illegally extracted.

That is why WWF is calling for a ban on gold imports from Brazil, until it can be proven that it’s not sourced from illegal and deforesting gold production.

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WWF is also calling for the UK government to bring forward new laws that urgently expand the scope and strengthen due diligence measures which were brought in through the Environment Act (2021) for UK supply chains, to ensure that they apply to illegal and unsustainable forest-risk commodities, including gold.

What can I do to stop this kind of destruction in Brazil?

The reality is that we all have a joint responsibility in protecting the Amazon.

Every hectare of the Amazon that is destroyed pushes the rainforest closer to collapse. And if we lose the Amazon, we lose the fight against the climate crisis.

We can all be part of the solution. Whether it’s standing with Indigenous peoples, campaigning to make sure UK imports are not contributing to the destruction of nature, or holding our business leaders and politicians to account to ensure we are not complicit in driving the Amazon to destruction.

We also have power as consumers. Products from the Amazon are sold in many of the countries in the world, at the same time as international finance flows into the Amazon to fund economic activities that harm the landscape. We need to understand that so we can all make choices in what we buy and where we invest.

The UK government has already promised a 'world-leading new law to protect rainforests', as part of the Environment Act.

It also led the landmark commitment at COP at 'to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030'.

Now we need the UK government to act to put measures in place that will deliver on these promises, including ending imports of illegal and deforesting gold from Brazil. You can help to hold politicians to account, by raising this issue with your MP.