BRASILIA, Brazil Many estimates of the amount of greenhouse gas givenoff by burning and deforestation in the Amazon are far too low because they failto take account of gas released by rotting vegetation, researchers resported toa deforestation conference this week.
Scientists from Brazil’s National Institute of Amazon Research said about 400million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent were emitted in 2003 60percent more than one estimate by other scientists at the conference.
“It’s emitting much more than it is absorbing,” said PhilipFearnside, a researcher at the institute, challenging a view presented to theconference on Wednesday that the jungle is a small net producer of oxygen.
The conference is discussing the findings of the Large ScaleBiosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia, the world’s biggest study of jungledeforestation. It started in 1998 and is being conducted by Brazilian andforeign organizations, including the U.S. space agency NASA.
The Amazon, a continuous forest covering an area larger than the continentalUnited States and home to up to 30 percent of the world’s animal and plantspecies, lost 5.9 million acres) to logging and burning in 2003.
Fearnside said that hydroelectric dams in the Amazon, for instance, should beincluded because rotting trees in flooded areas release methane gas. TheAmazon’s four dams produced more emissions between them than Brazil’s largestcity, Sao Paulo, he said.
But Carlos Nobre of Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research disputedFearnside’s theory.
“His number is not believable,” said Nobre, who estimated Amazonburning produced 250 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent last year.
The issue is politically sensitive because Brazil is due to publish aninventory of its emissions this year as required by the Kyoto Protocol on globalwarming.
Scientists expect the inventory to give a figure of around 300 million tonsfor Brazil’s total emissions, which would make the country one of the world’stop 10 polluters. Fearnside’s figure could tip it into the top five.
For many countries, the Kyoto treaty involves added costs as they seek waysto balance economic growth with emission levels. Developing countries likeBrazil are under close scrutiny from richer nations as to whether they honortheir commitments to curb pollution.
Brazil could lower its registered pollution output by claiming carbon dioxide”credits” for the gas absorbed by the Amazon, a course whichenvironmentalists are urging as a way to reduce deforestation.
If the Amazon’s destruction stops, credits could be used in the fledglingmarket for “carbon trading,” giving Brazil a financial incentive tosave the Amazon.
But Brazil’s government has been skeptical. “Some key (government)people believe deforestation is inherently out of control,” said Fearnside.