Amazon deforestation in Brazil rises by 22% in a year; a look at what caused deterioration in 15 years

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest has increased by 22 percent in a year, the highest level since 2006, according to the govern...

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest has increased by 22 percent in a year, the highest level since 2006, according to the government's annual report. The surging destruction comes despite President Jair Bolsonaro's assurances that the country is curbing illegal logging.

The National Institute for Space Research's Prodes monitoring system showed the Brazilian Amazon lost 13,235 square kilometers of rainforest in the 12-month reference period from 2020 August to July 2021. That's the most in over 15 years.

The far-right former army captain still calls for more mining and commercial farming in protected parts of the rainforest, considered a critical bulwark against catastrophic climate change.

Brazil was among a number of nations, including China, Russia and the United States, who vowed to end and reverse deforestation by 2030 at climate talks in Glasgow, in a landmark agreement that encompasses some 85 percent of the world's forests.

But why does the damage continue despite Bolsonaro's efforts to demonstrate that his administration is serious about saving the Amazon. Let's take a look.

Increased activity in protected areas

In protected rainforest areas, Bolsonaro advocates for increased mining and commercial farming.

Brazil's government announced a two-year deadline to halt illegal deforestation by 2028 during the United Nations Climate Summit in Glasgow this month, a goal that would need drastic yearly reductions in deforestation.

At a press conference on Thursday, environment minister Joaquim Pereira Leite stated, "The numbers are still a challenge for us, and we have to be stronger regarding these offences." He added that the data "does not exactly reflect the situation in the last few months".

Close links have also been uncovered between the deforestation of the Amazon and international supply chains. Last year, a Greenpeace investigation showed links between the mass deforestation of the region and food sold in British supermarkets and restaurants. The investigation found that Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Nando's and McDonalds were selling meat, sourced from a UK supplier, which had been fed on soy grown on farms built in deforested areas.

Increase in Brazil's carbon footprint by 9.6%

Due to extensive deforestation and warming temperatures in the region, parts of Amazon now emit more carbon than they capture. With the increase in greenhouse gas emissions and the drop of 4.1 percent in GDP, Brazil became poorer and polluted more.

Emissions from agriculture, which covered 577 million tons of carbon dioxide (27% of the national total) in 2020, also increased by 2.5 percent. This occurred in part for a counterintuitive reason: the economic crisis reduced meat consumption, with a reduction of nearly 8 percent in cattle slaughter. The national herd increased by about 3 million head, which, in turn, also increased methane emissions from enteric fermentation.

However, halting deforestation is not an impossible task. Brazil was able to reduce deforestation by 80 percent in less than a decade. Between 2004 and 2012, forest destruction plunged dramatically as authorities toughened environmental policing, while offering communities incentives for finding ways to earn an income without deforesting.

The state of Para accounted for 40 percent of deforestation from August 2020 to July 2021, the most of any of nine states in the Amazon region. But its year-on-year increase was slight compared to Mato Grosso and Amazonas states, which together accounted for 34 percent of the the region's destruction. The two states suffered 27 percent and 55 percent more deforestation, respectively.

And early data for the 2021-2022 reference period signals further deterioration. The space agency's monthly monitoring system, Deter, detected higher deforestation year-on-year during both September and October. Deter is less reliable than Prodes, but widely seen as a leading indicator.

"This is the real Brazil that the Bolsonaro government tries to hide with fantastical speeches and actions of greenwashing abroad," Mauricio Voivodic, international environmental group WWF's executive director for Brazil, said in a statement after release of the Prodes data. "The reality shows that the Bolsonaro government accelerated the path of Amazon destruction."

Why deforestation was on the rise since 2012?

Deforestation has risen since 2012 due to the continual increase in forces driving forest loss, such as more roads giving access to the forest, an increasing population, and more investment.

The expansion of soy plantation has played an important role, with planters purchasing many cattle ranches in the state of Mato Grosso — not only in the former Amazon forest but also in the Cerrado savanna area.

The ranchers use the money from the land sales to buy much cheaper land in the Amazon forest further north, especially in the state of ParĂ¡, where they clear forest on a large scale to establish new ranches. ParĂ¡ has been the biggest contributor to deforestation since 2006, when it surpassed Mato Grosso.

A look at Bolsonaro's track record

Elsewhere in the climate negotiations, Brazil's new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – non-binding national climate plans – include cutting 50 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. This increase, from the 43 percent cut previously pledged in 2015, sounds progressive.

This change would mean that, in the best-case scenario, Brazil keeps its original NDC. In the worst-case scenario, it would actually allow for more emissions. This makes it harder to trust Bolsonaro's environmental promises elsewhere.

Bolsonaro is well known for his disregard for environmental governance. He has tried to increase access to the Amazon for the commodities sector, claiming that relaxing environmental regulation is key to achieving economic growth. He also has a track record of attempting to dismantle environmental agencies and limit their budgets.

Maybe this new declaration will give world leaders an upper hand, by allowing them to impose economic sanctions on Bolsonaro's government if he breaks the agreement. Nevertheless, as negotiations at COP26 continue, it is vital that Bolsonaro and his anti-environmental, anti-globalist ideology does not undermine the talks.

With inputs from agencies

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India World News: Amazon deforestation in Brazil rises by 22% in a year; a look at what caused deterioration in 15 years
Amazon deforestation in Brazil rises by 22% in a year; a look at what caused deterioration in 15 years
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