Amazon deforestation in Brazil remains near the maximum in 15 years


RIO DE JANEIRO — Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon slowed slightly last year, a year after a 15-year high, according to closely watched figures released Wednesday. The data was published by the National Institute for Space Research.

The agency’s Prodes monitoring system shows that the rainforest lost an area roughly the size of Qatar, some 11,600 square kilometers (4,500 square miles), in the 12 months from August 2021 to July 2022.

That’s 11% less than the previous year, when more than 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 square miles) were destroyed.

For more than a decade, things seemed to be looking up for the Brazilian Amazon. Deforestation had drastically decreased and never exceeded 10,000 square kilometers again. That was before the presidency of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, starting in January 2019.

This will be the last report published under Bolsonaro, as he lost his re-election bid and will leave office on January 1. But some of the destruction that took place under him won’t show up until next year, including the key months of August through October. of 2022. A preview of those months comes from a different federal satellite system that outputs faster but less accurate data: It shows deforestation spiked 45% during the August-October period of the previous year. Traditionally, that time of the year is the one with the greatest destruction due to the dry season.

An analysis of new annual data from the Climate Observatory, a network of environmental groups, shows that in the four years of Bolsonaro’s leadership, deforestation increased 60% over the previous four years. That’s the largest percentage increase under a presidency since satellite monitoring began in 1998.

In one state, Pará, the ferocious rate of destruction was reduced by 21%, but it was still the center of a third of all Amazon rainforest loss in Brazil. Some of the cutting and burning of trees occurs in areas that are apparently protected. One such area is the Paru State Forest, where the nonprofit Amazon Institute for People and Environment recorded 2 square kilometers (0.7 square miles) of deforestation in October alone.

“In recent years, deforestation has reached protected areas where before there was almost no destruction,” Jacqueline Pereira, a researcher at the Amazon Institute, told The Associated Press. “In the Paru region, the destruction is driven by the lease of land for soybean crops and cattle.”

Another critical area is the southern part of the state of Amazonas, the only state that increased deforestation in the most recent data, by 13% compared to the previous year. It is largely attributable to Bolsonaro’s push to pave some 400 kilometers (250 miles) of the only highway connecting Manaus, home to 2.2 million people, with Brazil’s largest urban centers further south. Most of the deforestation in the Amazon occurs along roads where access is easier and land values ​​are higher.

Researchers and environmentalists have blamed Bolsonaro’s policies for the increase in deforestation. The administration weakened environmental agencies and backed legislative measures to relax land protections in the name of economic development, along with the prospect of occupying sparsely populated territory at any cost. This policy has emboldened land thieves and stimulated more illegal mining.

Bolsonaro’s successor, former leftist president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, promised cheering crowds at the recent UN climate conference in Egypt to end deforestation across the country by 2030. “There will be no climate security if the Amazon doesn’t is protected.” he said.

The last time da Silva was president, from 2003 to 2010, deforestation dropped dramatically. On the other hand, he backed initiatives that unleashed long-term destruction, such as the construction of the gigantic Belo Monte hydroelectric dam and generous loans to the beef industry. The clearing of forests for pasture is the main driver of deforestation.

The Amazon rainforest, which covers an area twice the size of India, acts as a buffer against climate change by absorbing vast amounts of carbon dioxide. It is also the most biodiverse forest in the world and home to tribes that have lived in the forest for thousands of years, some of them living in isolation.

“If da Silva wants to reduce the destruction of forests by 2023, he must have zero tolerance for environmental crimes from the first day of his administration. That includes holding accountable those who sabotaged environmental governance in the country over the last four years,” says Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory.

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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