The Congo Basin Forest could be the next tropical rainforest to go up in flames, according to the New York Times.
Brush fires across mostly empty landscapes in Central and Southern Africa have edged unsettlingly close to the rainforest, which spans six countries. The fires threaten to overtake the vast expanse of trees unless interventions are made.
At the G7 Summit this week, France’s President Emmaneul Macron said he might spearhead an aid package to help contain the fires, similar to his proposal to send $22 million to Brazil to fight powerful fires in the Amazon, the Times reports.
In recent weeks, the Amazon has commanded global attention as parts of the forest burn out of control. More than 39,000 fires have been recorded in the Amazon this year, the highest number in more than a decade. Parts of the forest that had been shielded from outside interference in the past have gone up in flames, destroying fragile ecosystems and endangering the forests’ long-term survival.
An explosion of fires around the Congo Basin Forest caused by dry conditions and farmers preparing their land for harvests have occurred in recent weeks. The Democratic Republic of Congo, which houses most of the Congo Basin Forest, is currently contending with 12,372 fires, according to the Global Forest Watch.
Experts at the Global Forest Watch told the Times that it’s unclear if fires will significantly harm the Congo Basin Forest, which supplies a significant amount of the world’s oxygen and acts as a vital carbon sink. If a major fire does break out, however, regional fire management teams will be incapable of containing it, they added.
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The fires threatening the two largest rainforests are largely caused by human activities, but they’re also being fueled by — and fueling — climate change.
As climate change intensifies around the world, making parts of the world hotter and drier, forest fires are happening with greater frequency and severity. Areas of the world that rarely see fires — such as Greenland and the Arctic — are facing unprecedented blazes.
When fires destroy forests, the greenhouse gas emissions that were stored in the trees get released, accelerating the planet’s warming.
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This double-sided problem makes the issue of forest management increasingly critical around the world.
It’s also why world leaders have urged Brazil to actively restrain the fires in the Amazon. If the world’s biggest rainforests get razed, then the chances of effectively fighting climate change become vanishingly small.
"The scale and severity of the fires that are currently burning in Brazil, and elsewhere — including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Angola, Peru, and Bolivia — is frightening," Mark Gruin, CEO of the Rainforest Trust, said in a statement. "Fueled by an increasingly unstable climate and the relentless clearing of forests, this devastation is often driven by politics, misinformation or the pursuit of short-term economic gain. These tragic blazes call all of us to action.
"These fires are real and serious and what we do today — all of us — determines the kind of world we will have tomorrow," he added.