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WWF, the Amazon and climate change

31 January 2010

A WWF/IUCN Global Review of Forest Fires (2000) has been the subject of comment in media regarding its use as a source for the IPCC and questioning the credibility of some of its claims. Some commentators have concluded that potential climate impacts on the Amazon are overstated and unsupported. WWF refutes this conclusion and stands by the credibility of its report.

WWF-UK would like to clarify the following details:

• The Global Review of Forest Fires says that “up to 40% of the Brazilian forest is extremely sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall.” WWF's source for this statement was Fire in the Amazon, a 1999 overview of Amazon fire issues from the respected Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (IPAM – Amazon Environmental Research Institute). The source quotation from Fire in the Amazon reads “Probably 30 to 40% of the forests of the Brazilian Amazon are sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall.” Our report does NOT say that 40% of the Amazon forest is at risk from climate change.

• WWF acknowledges that a reference to Fire in the Amazon as the source of the 40% claim outlined above was mistakenly omitted during the editing process of the Global Review of Forest Fires report.

• The essential point made in the report (and referred to by the IPCC) is that reduced rainfall increases fire risk and that a drying of the “normally fire-resistant Amazon forest” could impact the hydrologic cycle with implications for regional and global climate.

• WWF has since published a further, more detailed report that looks at this subject in further depth: Nepstad, Daniel C, The Amazon’s Vicious Cycles: Drought and Fire in the Greenhouse - Ecological and Climatic Tipping Points of the World’s Largest Tropical Rainforest, and Practical Preventive Measures, (WWF 2007). This report was supported by The Woods Hole Research Centre, the Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia, and the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, and independently reviewed by Prof Yadvinder Malhi, Professor of Ecosystem Science at Oxford University.

• What is not in contention is that the Amazon is at risk from factors which include and are complicated by climate change. Climate change is widely predicted to pose a significant risk to Amazon forest cover and type. A number of recent peer-reviewed studies support this.

• WWF cannot answer for the use of our 2000 report by other institutions.

The overwhelming majority of scientists from all relevant fields stand by the basic conclusion of climate science that human-induced changes in the composition of the atmosphere are resulting in warming which is driving damaging and possibly catastrophic climate change. This finding is supported by theory, modelling and more and more extensively by measurement over more than 20 years of what has become the largest international scientific collaboration ever mounted.

Recent controversies have largely concerned scientific standards employed in the assessment of projected impacts of climate change in a very small proportion of regions and cases studied. These incidents have no bearing on the overwhelming mass of findings on the reality and causes of climate change.

As the world’s leading science-based conservation organisation, WWF is committed to ensuring the information we provide to the public meets high standards of accuracy. WWF practice is to research any errors we are alerted to and make corrections where relevant.

For further comment please call Benjamin Ward (+44 7837 134 193) or Phil Dickie (+41 7970 31952).

Benjamin Ward
Head of Press & Media Relations

+44 (0) 1483 412 378
+44 (0) 7837 134 193

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