Vast tracts of Amazon rainforest vanished in January

Estimated 166 square miles of forest was cleared last month in one of the planet’s richest areas of biodiversity

Amazon chiefs on deforestation

Vast tracts of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest vanished in January, according to country officials, with more than five times the number of trees cut down as in the same period in 2021.

The monitoring system of the Brazilian space agency, INPE, reported that it was the highest rate of deforestation for the month of January since the program launched in 2016.

The Amazon rainforest is one of the planet’s richest areas of biodiversity. Trees, especially in old-growth forests, store carbon and are among our best natural allies in slowing the pace of the climate crisis, which is largely been driven by the burning of fossil fuels.

The new satellite data revealed that an estimated 166 square miles (430 sq km) of forest was cleared last month, mainly in the states of Mato Grosso, Rondônia, and Pará.

This was an increase of more than 418 per cent on January 2021. The record deforestation took place despite more rain in January than last year.

“Even in January, when deforestation is usually lower due to the rainy season in the Amazon region, destruction has dramatically skyrocketed,” Cristiane Mazzetti, spokeswoman for Greenpeace Brazil, said.

“Just weeks ago, this government had delayed the release of annual deforestation numbers that revealed a massive increase and then told the world that it was resolving deforestation in Glasgow. The new data yet again exposes how the government’s actions contradict its greenwashing campaigns.”

A Greenpeace Brazil analysis found that 22.5 per cent of the areas cleared last month occurred in the un-earmarked public lands, a frequent target for landgrabbers.

Evidence of accelerated forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon also occurred at the end of last year, just weeks after the country joined a Cop26 pledge to reverse deforestation by 2030.

An estimated 13,235 square kilometres of Amazon rainforest was lost in 2020-21, according to data from INPE, the highest level in more than 15 years.

At the Cop26 climate summit in November, more than 100 national leaders – including Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro – promised to reverse global forest loss by the end of the decade.

The agreement covered 85 per cent of the planet’s forests including the tropical rainforests of Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – an area of more than 13 million square miles.

The destruction of the Amazon rainforest has proliferated under Mr Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist whose government has weakened environmental protections and bolstered mining, cattle-ranching and logging.

In the past week, President Bolsonaro issued orders to boost gold prospecting in the Amazon.

Environmental and Indigenous rights groups lambasted the decrees and warned it would exacerbate the illegal destruction of the Amazon and pollution of its waterways with mercury, used to separate gold.

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