Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon surges to 15-year high

Data undercuts the Bolsonaro government’s recent attempts to shore up its environmental credibility

Charlene Rodrigues
Friday 19 November 2021 15:12
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<p>Aerial picture showing a deforested piece of land in the Amazon in Rondonia, northern Brazil</p>

Aerial picture showing a deforested piece of land in the Amazon in Rondonia, northern Brazil

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest rose 22 per cent in the past year to the highest level since 2006, according to official data, undercutting President Jair Bolsonaro’s assurances that the country is curbing illegal logging.

The National Institute for Space Research’s Prodes monitoring system showed the Brazilian Amazon lost 13,235 square kilometres of rainforest in the 12-month reference period from August 2020 to July 2021.

The 15-year high flies in the face of the Bolsonaro government’s recent attempts to shore up its environmental credibility, having made overtures to the administration of US President Joe Biden and moved forward its commitment to end illegal deforestation at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow this month.

The space agency’s report, released on Thursday, is dated 27 October – before talks in Glasgow began. A source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters that the government had the data in hand prior to the UN summit.

In the run-up to the summit, Brazil’s government had touted preliminary monthly data pointing to a slight decline for the annual period as evidence it was getting deforestation under control. The more refined final data instead showed a dire picture.

“The numbers are still a challenge for us and we have to be more forceful in relation to these crimes,” environment minister Joaquim Pereira Leite said at a news conference on Thursday.

He told reporters the data did not reflect recently stepped up enforcement against illegal deforestation, while conceding the government must do more to fight the destruction.

The Brazilian Amazon had not recorded a single year with more than 10,000 square kilometres of deforestation in more than a decade before Jair Bolsonaro’s term started in January 2019.

Between 2009 and 2018, the average was 6,500 square kilometres. Since then, the annual average has leapt to 11,405 square kilometres.

Mr Bolsonaro took office with promises to develop the Amazon, and dismissed global outcry about its destruction.

His administration has defanged environmental authorities and backed legislative measures to loosen land protections, emboldening land grabbers.

This week at a conference in the United Arab Emirates to attract investment, he said that attacks on Brazil for deforestation are unfair and that most of the Amazon remains pristine.

The state of Para accounted for 40% of deforestation from August 2020 to July 2021, according to the data, the most of any of nine states in the Amazon region.

But its year-on-year increase was slight compared with Mato Grosso and Amazonas states, which together accounted for 34% of the region’s destruction.

The two states suffered 27% and 55% more deforestation, respectively.

And early data for the 2021-2022 reference period signals further deterioration.

“This is the real Brazil that the Bolsonaro government tries to hide with fantastical speeches and actions of greenwashing abroad,” Mauricio Voivodic, international environmental group WWF’s executive director for Brazil, said in a statement after the release of the Prodes data.

“The reality shows that the Bolsonaro government accelerated the path of Amazon destruction.”

Additional reporting by agencies.

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