Brazil’s Amazon deforestation soars to 12-year high

Louise Boyle
·3-min read
<p>Huge tracts of the Amazon rainforest are being burned by loggers and farmers, exacerbating losses from climate change</p> (NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP via Getty Images)

Huge tracts of the Amazon rainforest are being burned by loggers and farmers, exacerbating losses from climate change

(NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP via Getty Images)

Brazil's Amazon rainforest has been decimated by deforestation in 2020, soaring to a 12-year high, official data revealed on Monday.

This year, destruction of the world's largest rainforest rose 9.5 per cent from 2019, to 11,088 square kilometers (2.7 million acres), according to data from Brazil's national space research agency, INPE.

The grim update came following indications earlier in the year that it would not be good news for the Amazon.

Cristiane Mazzetti, Greenpeace Brazil forests campaigner, said: “This was already expected. Instead of acting to prevent the increase in deforestation, the federal government has been denying the reality, dismantling the agencies, restraining and attacking NGOs work.

"Because of the government’s anti-environmental policies, deforestation in Brazil is almost three times higher than the target for 2020 set by the country’s National Policy on Climate Change.”

In September, INPE scientists revealed that official data had been miscalculated and the number of fires in Brazil’s Amazon had increased from 2019, putting them at the highest level in a decade.

The destruction has soared since President Jair Bolsonaro took office and weakened environmental enforcement. The Brazilian government press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Independent.

A surge in fires in August 2019 to a nine-year high provoked outcry from global leaders and the public that Brazil was not doing enough to protect the world’s largest rainforest, with Mr Bolsonaro trading barbs with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Environmental advocates and scientists say that Mr Bolsonaro is to blame for calling for the development of the Amazon. He has been an enthusiastic ring-leader to miners, cattle ranchers and illegal loggers pushing into one of the planet's richest regions of biodiversity, and the home of thousands of indigenous peoples.

Mr Bolsonaro, a climate denier, insisted this summer that there were no fires in the Amazon rainforest, calling evidence produced by his own government showing thousands of blazes a “lie”.

In July, the Brazilian government instituted a three-month "moratorium" on fires in the Amazon following the deployment of troops earlier in the year to prevent blazes being started. The moves appear to have been ineffective.

The Amazon absorbs vast amounts of carbon dioxide and scientists say its protection is vital to curbing the climate crisis.

INPE published a note on its website on 19 August that said there had been a problem with NASA’s Aqua satellite that generates the fire data and as a consequence the data had been incomplete since 16 August.

NASA has similarly published notices on its website warning of issues with the satellite.

Dr Setzer said Inpe has been looking for alternative data sources in order to correct the problem, estimating that it may take one to two weeks for the final data to be published.

Once correcting for the data that is almost entirely missing for the Amazon for 16 August, along with smaller differences generated by missing data for the northern Amazon since then, the final number should show a slight rise, he said.

Reuters contributed to this report

This report has been updated

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