Call for COP28 discussions to address the destruction of non-forest regions

To halt the climate crisis urgent action is needed to prevent vegetation loss outside forests

An international team of over 40 researchers is calling for COP28 discussions to address the destruction of non-forest regions, as featured in Nature ecology and evolution.  The current global attention on forest loss does not recognise the importance of non-forest areas, according to Dr Polyanna da Conceição Bispo, Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography at The University of Manchester, Dr. Celso Silva-Junior Researcher from Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), Brazil  and colleagues.

Describing the situation unfolding in non-forest areas as critical, they draw attention to the Brazilian Cerrado, often referred to as the Brazilian Savanna. The Cerrado is a globally recognised biodiversity hotspot, home to over 4,800 plant and vertebrate endemic species. However, the unique ecosystem has become Brazil's primary battleground for agricultural expansion. 

According to DETER (a near-real-time deforestation-alert system, developed by the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research) deforestation alerts in the Brazilian Amazon dropped by 33.6% during the first half of 2023 (compared to 2022), yet the Cerrado experienced a 21% increase in deforestation and conversion to farmland during the same period. More than half of the original Cerrado vegetation has now been lost.  

“The Cerrado has been largely excluded from sustainability policies and initiatives related to agricultural business, such as the Soy Moratorium, which focuses on the Amazon Forest. It is crucial that efforts aimed at curbing deforestation in the Amazon are extended to address the loss of natural vegetation in the Cerrado and other Brazilian biomes”.  

Dr Polyanna da Conceição Bispo

The Cerrado, as well as a critical hub for the cultivation of essential commodities, is the ancestral home of Indigenous Peoples and traditional communities who rely on the sustainable use of its natural resources. Deforestation and conversion activity poses an existential threat to its unparalleled biodiversity, and projections show that approximately 480 endemic plant species could face extinction by 2050.  

Discussing the Cerrado at COP28 is crucial due to the global focus on forest loss, neglecting the biodiversity and ecosystem services of non-forest biomes (e.g., Caatinga, Pampas, Pantanal, Chaco, African savannahs, and American Great Plain). Actions are needed to strengthen protection measures and address legal and policy gaps to mitigate deforestation, safeguard water resources, and protect Indigenous lands, emphasising the importance of non-forest ecosystems in combating the climate crisis.

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