Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest hits 15-year high


Smoke rises from an illegally lit fire in Amazon rainforest reserve, south of Novo Progresso in Para state, Brazil, on August 15, 2020.

Carl De Souza | AFP | Getty Images

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has reached a 15-year high, data from the country’s space agency has shown.

A report published by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) on Thursday estimated that 13,235 square kilometers (8,224 square miles) of forest was lost between August 2020 and July 2021. That’s an increase of 22% from the previous year.

It also marks the greatest area lost to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon since 2006, when a total area of 14,286 square kilometers was cleared.

The states of Pará, Amazonas, Mato Grosso and Rondônia saw the most deforestation during the 2020-21 period.

INPE’s latest data comes just weeks after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed an agreement at the COP26 climate summit pledging to end deforestation by 2030.

Brazilian Environment Minister Joaquim Leite said the government had to be “more forceful in relation to these crimes,” according to the BBC. However, he reportedly added that the data “does not exactly reflect the situation in the last few months.”

Deforestation has increased in Brazil under Bolsonaro’s rule.

He has courted controversy during his presidency for encouraging activities like mining and agriculture in the Amazon, and been criticized for suggesting that Brazil may open a protected reserve in the forest so the country could “use the riches that God gave us.”

Bolsonaro also clashed with world leaders in 2019 over his handling of huge forest fires raging through the Amazon, and allegedly fired the former head of INPE after the space agency published data showing a massive surge in forest fires.

In the past, conservation groups have blamed illegal logging and criminal networks for the rise in the number of Brazil’s forest fires.

The Amazon rainforest covers land in nine countries, but around 60% lies in Brazil. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the Amazon makes up half of the world’s remaining tropical forests.

While deforestation is contributing to climate change, research suggests that global warming is also damaging some of the industry the Amazon is being, in part, cleared to accommodate.

A study published last week by Brazilian and American academics found that a warmer, dryer environment had pushed 28% of Amazonian agricultural space out of its optimum climate conditions. The research predicted that 51% of the region’s agricultural land would move out of its ideal climate by 2030, and the same would happen to 74% of farms in the area by 2060.

Meanwhile, a scientific paper released in July found that the Amazon rainforest now releases more carbon emissions than it can absorb.

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