Amazon deforestation hits highest level in 15 years


RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil’s commitment this month to end illegal deforestation in eight years has garnered much praise from world leaders, but an official report this week cast doubt on that commitment after showed that the rate of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest was at its worst in 15 years.

At the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Brazil, determined to reverse its reputation as an environmental offender under President Jair Bolsonaro, joined more than 100 countries in pledging to end deforestation. As part of the plan, Brazil said it will reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 15 percent by next year.

But the report released Thursday by Brazil’s National Space Research Institute, or Inpe, showed that the world’s largest rainforest lost 5,100 square miles of tree cover from August 2020 to July 2021.

Satellite data indicated that deforestation increased by about 22 percent from the previous year. It was also the first time the country reported a fourth consecutive year of rising deforestation rates. Since Mr. Bolsonaro became president in 2019, the country has lost a larger forest area than Belgium.

“It’s not surprising,” said Daniel Azeredo, a federal prosecutor specializing in environmental crime. “The result of dismantling Brazil’s environmental policy is deforestation. “

Adding to questions of whether Brazil would meet these targets, the report was dated October 27, four days before the start of the climate summit, known as COP26, suggesting that the right-wing government had the information in hand. advance. But during a press conference Thursday evening, Joaquim Leite, the Minister of the Environment, denied having been aware of the figures at the climate summit, where he headed the Brazilian delegation.

“It is perhaps out of prudence that Inpe has delayed the publication of this data,” he told reporters. “The information I have is that it was released today, and that number is unacceptable.”

Acioli de Olivo, the vice president of the union that represents space researchers working for the federal government, said his team had investigated when the report was released. The report was ready by mid-October, he said, and was uploaded to a government platform accessible to officials before the start of the climate conference.

“It sounds like a joke to say that they weren’t aware of the report,” he said.

Izabella Teixeira, a former environment minister in a left-wing government, said the episode reflected not only the incompetence of the current administration, but also that her commitments at the summit were only aimed at limiting the damage.

“Brazil will only be able to meet its commitments when this government resigns,” she said. “We have completely lost our patience. There is no dialogue to be had.

Mr Bolsonaro took office promising to develop the Amazon region rather than protect it, which critics say has severely compromised the country’s ability to attract investment and negotiate favorable economic deals on the international stage.

As Mr Bolsonaro runs for a second term in an election slated for next year, his policies undermining environmental protection agencies and encouraging miners and ranchers to occupy the Amazon are sure to focus . An acute economic crisis has driven unemployment rates up and crushed its approval rates in recent months.

The new data was also released as the European Union and the United States discuss legislation that would prevent imports of goods linked to deforestation. If these laws are enacted under a Brazilian administration unable to control environmental violations, they could seriously affect local agribusiness, the heart of the country’s economy.

But if there is political will, Brazil has the tools to deliver on the commitments it has made, said Marcio Astrini, who heads the Climate Observatory, an environmental protection organization in Brazil. Between 2004 and 2012, deforestation rates fell by 80%.

“It’s eight years of work, it would be Herculean work,” he said. “But we’ve already done it.”

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