Destruction of the world’s largest rainforest rose by almost 10 per cent since Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro took office and weakened the country’s environmental enforcement laws.
According to official government data from Brazil’s national space research agency INPE, deforestation of the “planet’s lungs” surged to a 12-year high in 2020.
Inpe says destruction rose 9.5 per cent from a year earlier to 11,088 square kilometres, meaning Brazil will miss its own target – established under a 2009 climate change law – for reducing deforestation to roughly 3900 sq/km.
In 2019, the Amazon destruction increased by 34 per cent, so the 9.5 per cent increase was welcomed by government authorities.
While environmentalists blamed the government for the rise, federal officials hailed the figures as a sign of progress in fighting deforestation, as the increase was far lower than the 34 per cent increase recorded in 2019.
“While we are not here to celebrate this, it does signify that the efforts we are making are beginning to bear fruit,” Vice-President Hamilton Mourao told reporters.
The consequences for missing the target are not laid out in the law but could leave the government open to lawsuits.
The official annual measure is taken by comparing satellite images from the end of July 2020 with those from the beginning of August 2019.
The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and its protection is crucial to stopping catastrophic climate change because of the vast amount of carbon dioxide it absorbs.
The latest annual destruction is a substantial increase from the 7536 sq/km that were deforested in 2018, the year before Mr Bolsonaro took office.
Mr Bolsonaro has weakened the environmental enforcement agency Ibama and called for introducing more commercial farming and mining in the Amazon region, arguing it will lift the region out of poverty.
Mining and farming over conservation
Environmental advocates say this has emboldened illegal farmers, miners and land grabbers to clear the forest.
The official annual measure, known as PRODES, is taken by comparing satellite images from the end of July 2020 with those from the beginning of August 2019.
“The PRODES figures show that Bolsonaro’s plan worked,” Brazilian NGO Climate Observatory said in a statement.
“They reflect the result of a successful initiative to annihilate the capacity of the Brazilian state and the inspection bodies to take care of our forests and fight crime in the Amazon.”
The election of Joe Biden as US President has raised the possibility the US could also ramp up pressure on Brazil over the rainforest, the ABC reported.
In one debate, Mr Biden said the world should offer Brazil money to fund efforts to stop deforestation, and threatened economic consequences against the Latin American nation if it did not.
The comment drew fierce criticism from Mr Bolsonaro, who said it was a threat to Brazil’s sovereignty.
“Let’s remember that the future president knows our country,” Mr Mourao said on Monday, speaking about Mr Biden.
“He is a person with whom we will establish a dialogue at some point without major problems.”