Amazon fires have been miscalculated and are actually the worst in a decade

Environmental advocates and scientists say that Brazil's leader, Jair Bolsonaro, is to blame for weakening environmental protections and calling for the development of the Amazon

Louise Boyle
New York
Thursday 03 September 2020 18:10
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The official data for August on the number of fires in Brazil's Amazon has been miscalculated and will likely show that the blazes have increased from 2019, meaning they are at the highest levels in a decade.

Alberto Setzer, the scientist responsible for the official fire figures, told Reuters that the reporting of finalised data had been delayed by an error with a NASA satellite.

Brazilian media has reported that fires in Brazil’s section of the Amazon rainforest fell by 5 per cent in August, citing data currently on the website of the government space research agency, Inpe, that has not been corrected.

But once that issue is corrected, it will likely show that fires increased by between 1- 2 per cent in August 2020 compared to the same month a year ago, Dr Setzer said. That would mean it is the worst spate of fires for the month since August 2010.

“It’s going to be up. The number of fires, fire pixels, will increase. Maybe up to 1 or 2%, I would guess,” Dr Setzer told Reuters, referring to spots of heat registered on satellite images. He also cautioned that a shift of 1-2 per cent is within the margin of error, according to the news agency. Inpe did not respond to a request for comment from The Independent.

The press office for President Jair Bolsonaro did not respond to a request for comment by The Independent. Mr Bolsonaro's office declined to comment to Reuters, directing questions to the office of Vice President Hamilton Mourao, who has been placed in charge of Amazon affairs. Mr Mourao’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A surge in fires in August 2019 to a nine-year high provoked outcry from global leaders and the public that Brazil was not doing enough to protect the world’s largest rainforest, with Mr Bolsonaro trading barbs with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Environmental advocates and scientists say that Mr Bolsonaro is to blame for weakening environmental protections and calling for the development of the Amazon. He has been an enthusiastic ring-leader to miners, cattle ranchers and illegal loggers pushing into one of the planet's richest regions of biodiversity, and the home of thousands of indigenous peoples.

Mr Bolsonaro, a climate denier, insisted last month that there are no fires in the Amazon rainforest, calling evidence produced by his own government showing thousands of blazes a “lie”.

In July, the Brazilian government instituted a three-month "moratorium" on fires in the Amazon following the deployment of troops earlier in the year to prevent blazes being started. The moves appear to have ineffective.

The Amazon absorbs vast amounts of carbon dioxide and scientists say its protection is vital to curbing the climate crisis.

Inpe published a note on its website on 19 August that said there had been a problem with NASA’s Aqua satellite that generates the fire data and as a consequence the data had been incomplete since 16 August.

NASA has similarly published notices on its website warning of issues with the satellite.

Dr Setzer said Inpe has been looking for alternative data sources in order to correct the problem, estimating that it may take one to two weeks for the final data to be published.

Once correcting for the data that is almost entirely missing for the Amazon for 16 August, along with smaller differences generated by missing data for the northern Amazon since then, the final number should show a slight rise, he said.

Reuters contributed to this report

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