Deforestation in Brazilian Amazon Accelerates to Highest Level in 15 Years

Brazil's Amazon has lost an area about 17 times the size of New York City this year.

Aerial view show a deforested area of Amazonia rainforest.

Aerial view show a deforested area of Amazonia rainforest in Labrea, Amazonas state, Brazil, on Sept. 15, 2021. MAURO PIMENTEL / AFP via Getty Images

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is at its highest level in 15 years, the latest data from Brazil‘s space agency INPE has found.

The news casts doubt on Brazil’s credibility after it signed a pledge to end deforestation by 2030 at this month’s COP26 climate conference, which it further promised to meet by 2028.

The new data, WWF Brazil head Mauricio Voivodic told Reuters, shows “the real Brazil that the Bolsonaro government tries to hide with imaginary discourses and greenwashing efforts abroad. What the reality shows is that the Bolsonaro government has accelerated the course of the Amazon’s destruction.”

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro came to power in 2018 with a pledge to open more of the Amazon rainforest to development. Since then, deforestation has increased as forest has been cleared for agriculture and mining, BBC News reported.

The latest satellite data from INPE shows that 5,110 square miles of forest were lost between August 2020 and July 2021, up 22 percent from the year before and the highest since 2006, Reuters reported. The area lost is almost 17 times the size of New York City.

The news came the day after another study from independent research group the Institute for Man and the Environment of the Amazon (Imazon) found that deforestation had increased 33 percent during the first 10 months of 2021, compared with the first 10 months of 2020, as CNN reported.

The release of the space agency data after COP26 casts additional doubts on how Brazil presented itself at the conference. The new data was actually dated to October 27, indicating it was held until after the conference concluded November 12, BBC News reported. However, during the summit Brazil’s government shared data indicating a slight decline in deforestation.

“The government went to COP26 knowing the deforestation data and hid it,” Brazilian advocacy group Climate Observatory told Reuters.

Environment Minister Joaquim Leite told BBC News that the data did not entirely reflect the situation over the last few months, but that the numbers were a “challenge.”

Forests like the Amazon are an important sink for carbon dioxide, CNN noted. However, when they are cut down or degraded, that carbon is released. Because of pressure put on the forest by human activity, some parts of the Amazon have begun to emit more carbon dioxide than they absorb. Overall, deforestation is responsible for around 10 percent of global emissions.

The Bolsonaro regime has been trying to defend itself against criticisms of its handling of the Amazon since devastating wildfires caught international attention in 2019. This week, Bolsonaro told investors in Dubai that depictions of his policies were “unfair” and that 90 percent of the forest was still preserved, as Katy Watson reported for BBC News.

The new data casts further doubt on his credibility.

“[W]ith numbers like these, who can believe Jair Bolsonaro now?” Watson said.

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