Amazon deforestation soars to 11-year high under Bolsonaro

Rainforest considered key to mitigating climate change due to carbon dioxide it absorbs

Drone footage illustrates the devastation to the Amazon as a record number of fires in the rainforest intensified an unfolding environmental crisis. Video: Reuters


Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest rose to its highest in over a decade this year, government data on Monday showed, confirming a sharp rise under the leadership of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.

Brazil’s INPE space research agency said deforestation reached 9,762sq km, up 29.5 per cent, for the 12 months through July 2019.

That’s the worst level of deforestation since 2008, heaping further pressure on the environmental policy of Mr Bolsonaro who favours developing the Amazon region economically.

The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and is considered key to the fight against climate change because of the vast amounts of carbon dioxide it absorbs.

Risks to the forest drew global concern in August when fires raged through the Amazon, drawing sharp criticism from French president Emmanuel Macron.

At a briefing to discuss the numbers, minister for the environment Ricardo Salles said the rise in deforestation showed the need for a new strategy to combat the illegal logging, mining and land grabbing which he said were to blame for the increase in deforestation.

Beef prices are also at record highs in Brazil, encouraging land grabbing for cattle ranching which is one of the biggest drivers of deforestation in the region.

Environmentalists and nongovernmental organisations place the blame squarely on the government, saying that Bolsonaro’s strong pro-development rhetoric and his policies to weaken environmental enforcement are behind the rise in illegal activity.

“The Bolsonaro government is responsible for every inch of forest destroyed. This government today is the worst enemy of the Amazon,” said Marcio Astrini, public policy co-ordinator for Greenpeace.

Deepening crisis

Mr Bolsonaro’s office referenced remarks made by Mr Salles and another official and did not comment further on the issue

In August, it was reported that Mr Bolsonaro’s government had systematically weakened environmental agency Ibama, grounding a team of elite enforcement commandos and forbidding agents from destroying machinery used to illegally deforest.

Brazil’s Climate Observatory, a network of non-governmental organisations that includes Greenpeace, said that the 2019 increase in deforestation was the fastest in percentage terms since the 1990s and the third fastest of all time.

Mr Salles said Brazil would roll out measures to counter rising deforestation, including stepping up enforcement efforts assisted by high-resolution satellite imaging.

The minister said he would meet governors of Amazon states on Wednesday to further discuss tactics to counter deforestation.

All options are on the table for countering deforestation, including activating the military for use in environmental enforcement operations, he said. – Reuters