An aerial view shows cattle on a deforested plot of the Amazon in Rondonia state, Brazil, August 14, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon topped 11,000 square kilometres for the first time since 2008 reports the Brazilian government.
According to data released today by Brazil’s national space research institute INPE, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon for the year ending July 31, 2020 amounted to 11,088 square kilometres, an area the size of Jamaica. The loss, which represents a 9.5% increase over the same period last year, is nearly triple the 3,925 square kilometre target established in the 2009 National Policy on Climate Change.
The state of Pará accounted for nearly half of forest clearing in 2020 according to the data. Mata Grosso (16% of deforestation), Amapá (14%), and Rondônia (11%) followed. Pará, Mata Grosso, and Rondônia — states where cattle ranching and soy farming have rapidly expanded in recent decades — perennially lead the country in deforestation.
Note: The new data are preliminary. Brazil typically releases the official data a few months into the new calendar year. For example, Brazil revised the preliminary 2019 numbers up 3.8% this past June.
The rise in Amazon deforestation was expected. Data from monitoring systems run by INPE and Imazon, an independent Brazilian NGO, had shown monthly deforestation pacing well ahead of last year’s rate.
Environmentalists have blamed the rising deforestation rate on the Bolsonaro administration’s efforts to roll back forest protection, reduce environmental law enforcement and penalties for illegal forest clearing, sack career scientists from federal agencies, and demonize environmental defenders as enemies of the state. In his 2018 presidential campaign, Jair Bolsonaro called for increased logging, mining, dam construction, and agricultural expansion across the Amazon.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, which accounts for more three-fifths of the forest cover in Earth’s largest rainforest, has been trending upward since bottoming out in 2012 at 4,571 square kilometres.
Scientists fear that rising deforestation and the effects of climate change could tip vast swathes of the Amazon rainforest to a drier savanna-like ecosystem. Such a transition could have dire implications for rainfall across southern South America, which includes the continent’s main agricultural region and its biggest cities. Large-scale Amazon die-off would also trigger substantial greenhouse emissions, further destabilizing global climate.