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More than a quarter of the Amazon basin is now releasing more carbon than it absorbs, according to a comprehensive study.

Brazilian researchers flew an aircraft over the rainforest every two weeks for nine years, taking air samples from just above the canopy all the way up to 4.5km.

They found that the eastern side of the Amazon, which accounts for around 28% of the total area, is losing more carbon as a result of deforestation than is being removed from the atmosphere by the growth of trees.

Some of the carbon is lost through fires, deliberately started to clear the forest for agriculture.

An aerial view shows logs cut from the Amazon rainforest near Porto Velho, Rondonia State
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An area that covers 28% of the Amazon is losing more carbon as a result of deforestation than it is removing from the atmosphere by the growth of trees

But the knock-on effect of an absence of trees is local climate change, with rising temperatures and reduced rainfall accelerating the decline of surrounding areas of forest. Parts of the Amazon have flipped from being a carbon sink to a carbon source.

Mark Wright, director of science for conservation charity WWF, told Sky News that the research showed the Amazon is at a tipping point, where great swathes of forest could be destroyed by self-perpetuating dieback.

“We’re no longer talking about some dystopian future, this is stuff we can see on the ground, these changes are happening here and now,” he said.

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“It’s a warning of what is still come to come.

“We know we are moving towards that inextricable situation where the forest will slowly transform into a more grass-like savannah ecosystem and as a result will push more carbon into the atmosphere.”

The world’s plants have absorbed 25% of fossil fuel emissions since 1960, helping to reduce global warming.

The Amazon rainforest has taken up a significant proportion, storing an estimated 123 billion tonnes in the trees and other vegetation.

But the new research suggests it can’t be relied on in future to mop up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere because human activity is disrupting the delicate ecosystem.

The researchers, led by National Institute for Space Research in Brazil, found that on the lush western side of the Amazon basin slightly more carbon is being absorbed through photosynthesis than is being released by dead trees and human impact on the forest.

But it was a significantly different story on the eastern side, where 27% of the forest has been lost, more than twice the rate in the west.

Results published in the journal Nature show that the area has switched from being a carbon sink to a net source during the nine years of the study, with local climate change destabilising the delicate ecosystem.

The researchers say that in the drier months of August to October the temperature in the eastern Amazon has increased by between 1.9C and 2.5C over 40 years. Rainfall has decreased by between 24% and 34%.

The researchers say there is a direct link between the changing climate and tree loss.

Conservationists warn the new law threatens to accelerate rainforest destruction. Pic: AP
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Human activity is disrupting the Amazon’s delicate ecosystem

The Amazon receives an average of more than 2m of rain a year, with between a quarter and a third of it resulting from moisture released by trees.

With a shrinking forest in the east the atmosphere is drier, stunting the growth of remaining trees and reducing the amount of carbon they absorb.

Some scientists have predicted that if the Amazon reaches a tipping point it will retreat to cover only a relatively small area in the west, with a devastating impact on biodiversity and atmospheric carbon.

But Mark Wright said: “The future is potentially very, very bleak, but it’s not too late.

“If we follow the science, we can clearly see there is scope to do really good agricultural development in Brazil, in a way that will boost their economy, in a way that does not require further degradation.

“If we can concentrate on restoring those lands there is still hope for preventing that kind of runaway process.

“But we have to act now, we can’t keep pushing this off.”

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Daily Climate Show – featuring a ‘living laboratory’

Sky News has launched the first daily prime time news show dedicated to climate change.

The Daily Climate Show is broadcast at 6.30pm and 9.30pm Monday to Friday on Sky News, the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.

Hosted by Anna Jones, it follows Sky News correspondents as they investigate how global warming is changing our landscape and how we all live our lives.

The show also highlights solutions to the crisis and how small changes can make a big difference.

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Rishi Sunak plans to ban Channel migrants from appealing deportation

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Rishi Sunak plans to ban Channel migrants from appealing deportation

The prime minister is looking to ban people arriving in the UK via small boats from appealing against deportation, Sky News understands.

Rishi Sunak has made stopping Channel migrant crossings one of his five priorities in office, promising to introduce new laws to “make sure that if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed”.

Politics latest: Number 10 doesn’t deny claim top civil servant may have failed to pass on Raab complaint

A report in The Times said the Home Office has now drawn up two plans to stop people arriving via this route from claiming asylum – either withdrawing the right to appeal against automatic exclusion from the asylum system or only allowing them to appeal after they have been deported.

A third proposal would prevent people from being able to use the Human Rights Act to stop their deportations, such as by claiming their right to family life.

Sky News understands the report to be accurate.

A Home Office spokesperson would not comment directly on the report, but said: “The unacceptable number of people risking their lives by making these dangerous crossings is placing an unprecedented strain on our asylum system.

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“Our priority is to stop this and prevent these illegal crossings, and our new Small Boats Operational Command – bolstered by hundreds of extra staff – is working hard to disrupt the business model of people smugglers.”

They added: “We are also going further by introducing legislation which will ensure that those people arriving in the UK illegally are detained and promptly removed either to their home country or a safe third country.”

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Chinese spy balloon: US sec of state Blinken speaks with senior Chinese official over cancelled visit

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Chinese spy balloon: US sec of state Blinken speaks with senior Chinese official over cancelled visit

US secretary of state Antony Blinken has spoken with a senior Chinese official about his postponed trip to the country.

US officials said Mr Blinken spoke to the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Office Wang Yi today postponing the planned visit.

But the secretary of state “indicated he would plan to travel” to China “at the earliest opportunity when conditions allow”.

Officials also said they “noted” China’s statement of regret but said “the presence of this balloon in our airspace is a clear violation of our sovereignty, as well as international law, and it is unacceptable that this has occurred”.

The diplomatic wrangling comes after a Chinese surveillance balloon has been tracked by US intelligence in recent days.

In a press conference today, the US defence department has said the Chinese spy balloon is heading eastwards but poses “no physical or military threat” to civilians.

The Pentagon’s press secretary would not confirm the current location of the balloon, which is operating at around 60,000ft.

There is also no evidence of any nuclear or radioactive material on board but it has the ability to be manoeuvred, according to Brigadier General Pat Ryder.

The spy balloon's route from China over the Aleutian Islands, through Canada and into Montana
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The spy balloon’s route from China over the Aleutian Islands, through Canada and into Montana

Watch:
Future Wars: Could there ever be a conflict between the US and China?

He also rejected Chinese claims that the balloon was in fact a “civilian airship” that had strayed into American airspace.

The US authorities said it now knows the object – spotted over Billings, Montana, on Wednesday, close to one of the US’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base – was a Chinese balloon flying over sensitive sites to collect information.

A map showing where the balloon was spotted and the US's Malmstrom Air Force Base
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A map showing where the balloon was spotted and the US’s Malmstrom Air Force Base

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a high-profile visit to China which had been due to begin on Sunday.

Senior state department officials described the incident as a “clear violation of US sovereignty and international law” and said conditions were “not right at this moment” for Mr Blinken to travel.

Mr Blinken was prepared to depart for China tonight before the trip was postponed, Sky News understands.

He plans to travel “when conditions allow”, according to officials.

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Pentagon spokesman said that suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over the US has ‘violated international law’, adding that it doesn’t pose any physical threat for people on the ground.

The Foreign Ministry in Beijing admitted the balloon had come from China – but said it was for meteorological and other scientific research.

The Pentagon spokesperson said it is “monitoring the situation closely and will continue to review options”.

Read more:
What are spy balloons?

China responds to claims by the US that it has identified a Chinese 'surveillance balloon' over Montana
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China responds to claims by the US that it has identified a Chinese ‘surveillance balloon’ over Montana

The balloon will probably remain over the US for a few days, the spokesperson added.

US officials also confirmed military intelligence had previously seen similar surveillance balloons elsewhere.

The object is believed to have flown over the Aleutian Islands, off the coast of Alaska, and through Canada before entering the US.

Military and defence leaders had considered shooting the balloon out of the sky but decided against it due to the safety risk from falling debris.

US defence secretary Lloyd Austin convened a meeting of senior military and defence leaders to review the threat profile of the balloon and possible responses, which were presented to US President Joe Biden on Wednesday.

President Biden, speaking at a White House conference about jobs earlier today, refused to answer questions on the topic.

The US has engaged Chinese officials “with urgency” and communicated the seriousness of the situation.

China and the US have experienced tensions of late, clashing over Taiwan and China’s human rights record and its military activity in the South China Sea.

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Paris Olympics: UK to host summit in bid to ban Russia from games

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Paris Olympics: UK to host summit in bid to ban Russia from games

Opposition to Russians being allowed to compete at next year’s Paris Olympics is intensifying, as the UK government prepares to convene talks with more than 30 countries.

The summit is due to be held next Friday 10 February.

The International Olympic Committee is facing dissent over its willingness to allow athletes from Russia to compete as neutrals in Paris next year in defiance of pleas from Ukraine, following Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

Ukraine war – latest updates

Ukrainian Olympic officials decided on Friday to consult on a possible boycott of the Olympics and an outright ban on Russian athletes – a stance supported by the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania which border Russia and gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Lithuania’s sports minister Jurgita Siugzdiniene told Sky News that her British counterpart has organised a virtual meeting next Friday involving more than 30 countries on excluding athletes from Russia and Belarus from the Olympics.

As well as European governments, officials from Canada, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea are among the global participants in the meeting. Poland has said it would be possible to build a coalition of about 40 countries, including the US, Britain and Canada.

“We should do everything [so] Russian and Belarusian athletes would not participate in the Olympics, and even under the veil of neutrality,” Ms Siugzdiniene said.

“That’s what we should agree and that is very important. And so in that way we wouldn’t need to discuss the boycott.”

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Who is winning the war in Ukraine?

The IOC announced last week that it was open to athletes from Russia and Belarus – which has been used as a staging post for the invasion of Ukraine – competing as neutrals in Paris if they have not actively supported the war.

“I see it as an effort to legitimise and distract attention from Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” Ms Siugzdiniene said.

“I think they can use this as a platform. So it would be very wrong that we would provide this opportunity for them.”

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In the last three summer and winter Olympics between 2018 and 2022, Russian athletes have been prevented from competing with the national flag or anthem as punishment for the country’s state-sponsored doping scheme.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said any neutral flag for Russia in Paris would be “stained with blood”.

At Friday’s meeting, Ukraine’s sports minister and president of the country’s Olympic committee Vadym Hutzait said members were united “against allowing sportspeople from Russia and Belarus from competing”.

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‘Russia will respond to Western arms supplies’

In an appeal to sporting authorities, he said: “As long as the war is going on, as long as our motherland is being bombed, as long as we are fighting for freedom and independence, we have a great wish not to see them [Russians and Belarusians].

“There is a discussion on the international level and we have already some countries supporting us.”

He added: “The price of Ukrainians’ lives is of the highest value. We have no right for compromise … when our Ukrainians are dying.”

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Johnson tells the West: ‘Give Ukraine planes’

The IOC wants sports federations to allow any Russians or Belarusians who have not been “actively supporting the war in Ukraine” to take part and argues it would be discriminatory to ban athletes based on their citizenship alone.

It has responded to the comparison with Apartheid-era South Africa being excluded from the Olympics for more than 20 years, pointing out that UN sanctions were in place at the time.

“There are no UN sanctions in place against Russia and Belarus at this moment in time,” the IOC said.

But Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, can veto any proposed resolution.

Government pressure on athletes and sports bodies should also be resisted, the IOC said, adding its stated mission is “to unite the entire world in a peaceful competition”.

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