Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon reached 9.762 km2 in 2012, according to new data released on Monday by the National Institute for Space Research, Inpe. The figure represents the highest yearly rate since 2008, and it also marks the third highest increase in recorded history (29.5%), only behind 1995 (95%) and 1998 (31%).
The yearly rate is an estimate from the Prodes satellite monitoring system, which informs the official deforestation rate (measured in the 12 months from August to July). In May 2020, it will be updated with more satellite images to give the final rate – which could be even higher. It confirms the soaring trend seen earlier this year by real-time remote sensing system Deter, by the same agency. The spike in Deter data in June has prompted President Jair Bolsonaro to call the numbers “a lie” and fire Inpe’s director Ricardo Galvão.
The number released today is a direct consequence of Bolsonaro’s “chainsaw” strategy, which consists in dismantling enforcement agencies, shelving deforestation control plans and empowering, through his speeches, environmental criminals. The president himself has proudly declared that he had commanded his Environment minister Ricardo Salles to “raze” Ibama, the federal environmental agency. Salles has duly obeyed.
Unlike previous years of an increase in deforestation, this time around the government hasn’t announced any credible plan to revert the situation. Salles said he would meet with Amazonian governors on Wednesday and present some measures then.
In 1995, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso issued an executive order reducing limits for legal deforestation. In 2003, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva created the Plan for Deforestation Prevention and Control in Amazonia (PPCDAm); in 2008, public agricultural credit was cut to municipalities with high deforestation rates.
The 2020 preliminary data point to a continued high in forest destruction. Between August and the first week of November, the real-time monitoring system Deter registered 3,929 km2 of deforestation alerts, which amounts to 57 percent of all that was clear-cut in 12 months between August 2018 and July 2019.
Since the measured alerts area is always smaller than the Prodes official figure, it is already possible to say that Brazil will miss its national climate law target of reducing deforestation to 3,925 km2 by 2020 – even if deforestation magically ended today.
“Today’s Inpe data are the most important indicator of the impact of the Bolsonaro/Salles administration upon the environment in Brazil: a huge disaster”, said Carlos Rittl, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory. “One wonders until when Brazil’s trade partners will keep on trusting its promises of sustainability and commitment to the Paris Agreement while forests are felled, indigenous leaders are murdered and environmental regulations are shred.”
“The Bolsonaro government is to blame for every inch of forest that is destroyed. This government today is the Amazon’s worst enemy”, said Marcio Astrini, from Greenpeace Brazil.
“This is hardly surprising considering that the President has supported environmental illegality and promoted impunity since the campaign trail”, said Adriana Ramos, from Instituto Socioambiental. “The government is also to blame for having frozen the only instrument so far for funding deforestation reduction, the Amazon Fund.”
Ane Alencar, Science director at Ipam (the Amazon Environmental Research Institute), said the figure reflects poor environmental inspection efforts. “Forty percent of deforestation this year happened in undesignated areas and in land with no tenure information, which the government has the obligation to protect.”
“The Prodes data show that deforestation is out of control. And, which is worse, 90 percent of it is illegal”, said Tasso Azevedo, from the Climate Observatory and MapBiomas. “This is as serious as losing control over inflation rates, and it is unjustifiable, since the country has the both the knowledge and the tools to fight destruction – but the government refuses to use them.”