Amazon deforestation in Brazil at 15-year high

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

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

This is 11% lower than the previous year when more than 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 square miles) was destroyed.

For more than a decade, things seemed to be getting better for the Brazilian Amazon. Deforestation has decreased significantly and never exceeded 10,000 square kilometers. That was before the presidency of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, which began in January 2019.

This will be the last report Bolsonaro has released as he has lost his chance for reelection and will step down on 1 January. A preview of these months comes from a different federal satellite system, which is broadcasting faster but less accurate data: It shows deforestation skyrocketed by 45% in the August-October period of the previous year. Traditionally, this time of year sees the highest destruction due to the dry season.

Analysis of new annual data from the Climate Observatory, a network of environmental groups, shows that under Bolsonaro’s four-year leadership, deforestation increased by 60% from the previous four years. This is the largest percentage increase in a presidential term since satellite tracking began in 1998.

In Para, a state, the rate of destruction was drastically reduced by 21%, but it was still the center of one-third of all of Brazil’s Amazonian forest loss. Some of the logging and burning takes place in seemingly protected areas. One such area is the Paru State Forest, where the nonprofit Amazon Institute of Human and Environment recorded 2 square kilometers (0.7 square miles) of deforestation in October alone.

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

Another critical area is the southern portion of Amazonas state, which is the only state in the latest data to increase deforestation by 13% year-over-year. This is largely attributable to Bolsonaro’s effort to pave the only road about 400 kilometers (250 miles) that connects Manaus, home to 2.2 million people, with Brazil’s larger urban centers further south. Most Amazonian deforestation occurs alongside roads where access is easier and land value is higher.

Researchers and environmentalists blamed Bolsonaro’s policies for the increase in deforestation. The government has weakened environmental agencies and supported legislative measures to loosen land protections in the name of economic development, matching the view of occupying a sparsely populated area at all costs. This policy discouraged land robbers and encouraged more illegal mining.

Bolsonaro’s successor, left-wing ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, pledged to the cheering crowd at the last UN climate conference in Egypt to end all deforestation in the entire country by 2030. “There will be no climate security if the Amazon is not protected,” he said.

When Da Silva was the last president from 2003 to 2010, deforestation fell sharply. On the other hand, he supported initiatives that mobilized destruction in the long run, such as the construction of the massive Belo Monte hydroelectric dam and generous loans to the beef industry. Deforestation for pasture is the primary driver of deforestation.

Covering an area twice the size of India, the Amazon rainforest absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide and acts as a buffer against climate change. It’s also the world’s most biodiverse forest and home to tribes that have lived in the forest for thousands of years, some living in isolation.

“If Da Silva wants to reduce deforestation by 2023, he must have zero tolerance for environmental crimes from the first day of his administration. “This includes holding accountable those who have sabotaged the country’s environmental governance during the past four years in office,” says Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory.

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private organizations. You can find out more about the AP’s climate initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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