The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released on August 9, confirms that Brazil is home to one of the regions in the world where climate change has had the most severe impacts: the semi-arid region.
The report notes that due to climate change, the region – which includes much of the northeast and northern Minas Gerais – has already experienced more severe droughts and higher-than-normal temperatures.
These conditions, along with the progress of deforestation in the region, tend to exacerbate desertification, which already includes an area the size of England (read more below).
Established at the United Nations and made up of 195 countries, including Brazil, it is the main global body responsible for regulating scientific knowledge on climate change.
The document submitted on Monday (AR6) is the sixth assessment report to be issued since the agency’s founding in 1988.
Most densely populated dry areas
“The Brazilian northeastern region is the most densely populated arid region in the world and is frequently affected by extreme weather conditions,” the report says.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that these conditions must get worse: If in the 2030s the world reaches a 1.5°C increase in average temperature, the hottest day of the year in Brazil will experience a temperature increase of up to to double.
In many parts of the semi-arid region, that means summers with temperatures exceeding 40°C.
Today, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world has already seen a 1.1°C increase in average temperature over pre-industrial standards.
To limit the degree of warming, countries need to significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases – such as carbon dioxide, from deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels, and methane, which is emitted from the digestive systems of livestock.
morNot only gives you life
For meteorologist and soil scientist, Humberto Barbosa, Professor at the Federal University of Alagoas (Oval), extreme temperatures raise questions about the survival of soil-dwelling microorganisms and are essential for the existence of plants in the semi-arid region.
Two years ago, Barbosa said he found temperatures of up to 48 degrees Celsius in the degraded soils in the interior of Alagoas.
“The vegetation no longer grows there, no matter if it is raining 500mm, 700mm or 800mm. It no longer makes a difference, as all the biological activity of the soil is no longer responsive,” he says.
With no life in the soil, that area became desert, as happened in several other parts of the semi-arid region.
In Oval, Barbosa coordinates the Satellite Image Processing and Analysis Laboratory (LAPIS), which has been monitoring desertification in the semi-arid region since 2012.
In 2019, the lab revealed that 13% of the entire region was in an advanced stage of desertification. The area of this region is about 127 thousand square kilometers.
“In our area, of course there will be no desert, only we have desert today,” he says.
Barbosa explains: According to science, desert (or arid) climates are those where precipitation is less than 250 mm per year. Under these conditions, the survival of plants and animals is very difficult – hence the blank side of much of the desert landscape.
But these climatic conditions do not apply to any region of Brazil, not even the semi-arid region, which continues to receive between 300 and 800 mm of rain annually.
However, climate change and deforestation have created desert landscapes in the region.
“The soil in these areas is losing its biological activity, although rainfall continues to be above what would be expected in a desert area. This is the paradox,” Barbosa says.
He claims that at this point, it is almost impossible to reverse this phenomenon. “The cost of restoring desertified areas is high, and in Brazil we don’t have the economic capacity to make that kind of investment.”
The greatest drought in historyRia
Between 2012 and 2017, the semi-arid region faced the largest drought since precipitation levels began to be recorded in 1850. This drought, which has been attributed to climate change, has helped to expand the desertified areas.
Barbosa says the epidemic has made it difficult to take trips to gauge the progress of desertification after 2019, but everything indicates that the phenomenon is still progressing.
The already desertified area is the size of England, about three times the size of the state of Rio de Janeiro, or 23 times the size of the Federal District. These lands are not all contiguous and occupy different parts of the semi-arid region. They also experience different degrees of desertification, although this phenomenon is considered practically irreversible in all of them.
Some of the major centers of desertification are located in Gilbués (PI), Irauçuba (CE), Cabrobó (PE) and Seridó (RN).
Satellite images show how the cores have grown in recent decades, while the surrounding green areas have become thinner.
In the Cabrobó core, which occupies a vast area on both banks of São Francisco, the few patches of green in the landscape are due to the crops irrigated by river water.
The states most affected by desertification are Alagoas (32.8% of its total area affected by the phenomenon), Paraíba (27.7%), Rio Grande do Norte (27.6%), Pernambuco (20.8%), Bahia (16.3%), Sergipe (14.8%), Ceará (5.3%), Minas Gerais (2%), Piaui (1.8%).
Read the full story on BBC Brazil click here.
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