COP26: Above the Amazon – why the vital carbon store could disappear within a few generations

As the sun rose over the Amazon, so did we – to see for ourselves what’s at stake here, in the battle to save the most biodiverse sanctuary on the planet.

Our pilot, Raphael Montenegro, pilots police helicopters.

Every day he witnesses the increasing number of blemishes on nature’s masterpiece.

While flying over the breathtaking canopy of the Amazon rainforest, Raphael points out squares of land razed to the ground – the work of farmers and loggers. All of it is completely illegal, but little is done to stop it.

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It is environmental vandalism where the vandals have the blessing of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a president who cares little for his country’s land.

Although Brazil has vowed to work towards carbon neutrality by 2050, Mr Bolsonaro’s track record includes rallying against environmental enforcement, at a time where environmental agencies’ budgets are already at a crippling low.

Scientists here in Manaus fear that if things continue as they are, within a few generations the Amazon may not exist at all.

The rainforest below us is one enormous carbon store, holding the equivalent of almost 12 years of global emissions at current rates.

But as more trees are felled – and tens of billions already have been – it means less rainfall, higher temperatures, more drought.

The Amazon rainforest we picture in our mind’s eye as a wet and wonderous place packed with thousands of species of wildlife and fauna – could all be replaced by a vast dry savannah land.

And as we headed back, we saw another snapshot of a rainforest crying for help.

Tributaries into the Black River – which flows directly into the Amazon – covered in an oily film, its pollution laid bare to see.

Raphael says witnessing this is heart-breaking – but the Amazon rainforest is too vital not to fight for.

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