According to a new study, the destruction of the Amazon rainforest could soon be so far advanced that the ecosystem, which is so important for the earth's climate, can no longer recover from it.
The Amazon rainforest could become a savanna - with dramatic consequences for the whole world, as researchers led by Christ Boulton from the British University of Exeter warned on Monday.
Climate researchers have long identified the sustained destruction of the forest as a so-called tipping point for the global climate: the Amazon basin is home to half of the world's rainforest and stores large amounts of CO2.
If the region were to become a savannah, greenhouse gases would be released and global warming would be accelerated by leaps and bounds.
According to the study now published in the journal "Nature Climate Change", this scenario is much more likely than previously thought.
Using 25 years of satellite data, the researchers measured the Amazon's resilience to natural disasters such as droughts and fires for the first time.
In more than three-quarters of the Amazon basin, this resilience has decreased noticeably.
Global warming is itself a major contributor to the destruction of the Amazon.
According to some calculations, the savannah scenario for the region could become unavoidable as early as the middle of the current century if global emissions of greenhouse gases remain high.
"But of course it's not just about climate change - people are busy cutting down the forest or burning it down, which is a second pressure point," co-author Tim Lenton told AFP.
"These two things influence each other" - so the Amazon tipping point could be reached much earlier.
Since 1970, almost 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed or cut down - mainly for the production of timber, soybeans, palm oil, biofuels and livestock.
Deforestation has skyrocketed since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro took office in Brazil in 2019.
There are many tipping point theories, as emphasized by Niklas Boers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who was also involved in the study.
"Our study provides important empirical evidence that we are indeed approaching this threshold."
Other tipping points for the global climate include the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, the thawing of the Siberian permafrost soils laden with CO2 and methane, and the destruction of tropical coral reefs.