Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon in November surged by 104 percent compared to the same month in 2018

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Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon in November surged by 104 percent compared to the same month in 2018, according to official data released Saturday.

  • Just released preliminary figures for “2019” Brazilian Amazon deforestation (covering the August 2018-July 2019 period) show a 29.5 percent increase over the previous year, with 9,762 square kilometers (3,769 square miles) cleared, more than double the rate when Brazil’s famous deforestation decline ended in 2012.
  • Despite this deforestation surge, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro government claims the increase is not unusual and equivalent to high deforestation rates seen several times since 2012. However, critics point to the administration’s rhetoric and environmental deregulation as part of the “Bolsonaro Effect,” leading to rampant deforestation.
  • The government’s assertion of innocence fails to note that the new data only covers through July. In August 2019 the deforestation rate was 222 percent above the 2018 value; in September it ran 96 percent higher. The full “Bolsonaro effect” on deforestation won’t be on view until the complete “2020” numbers are released next November.
  • To date, the administration has done nothing to change its inflammatory rhetoric or its anti-environmental polices, so there is every reason to expect that Brazilian deforestation levels will continue to soar. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
INPE data showing deforestation within an August 1-July 31 timeframe. 2019 thus reflects the 12 months ending July 31 and doesn't include deforestation from August through October. Image by Mongabay using INPE data.
INPE data showing deforestation within an August 1-July 31 timeframe. 2019 thus reflects the 12 months ending July 31 and doesn’t include deforestation from August through October. Image by Mongabay using INPE data.

The 563 square kilometers (217 square miles) deforested that month is also the highest number for any November since 2015, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which provides official data on deforestation.

That is considered a significant increase, particularly during the rainy season, when deforestation generally slows.

For the first 11 months of the year – also the first months in office of Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right leader who has eased restrictions on exploiting the Amazon’s vast riches – deforestation totaled 8,974.3 square kilometers.

That is nearly twice the 4,878.7 square kilometers reported for the first 11 months of 2018.

The data was collected by the satellite-based DETER system, which monitors deforestation in real time.

As a result, this part of the “Bolsonaro effect” will only be reflected in the data from the PRODES program of the National Institute of Space Research (INPE) when the “2020” numbers are released a year from now.

Deforestation for the August 1-October 31 period in 2019 is pacing well ahead of the historic norm for the period. Image by Mongabay using INPE data.
Deforestation for the August 1-October 31 period in 2019 is pacing well ahead of the historic norm for the period. Image by Mongabay using INPE data.
Deforestation for the January 1-October 31 period in 2019 is pacing well ahead of the historic norm for the period. Bolsonaro took office in January 2019. Image by Mongabay using INPE data.
Deforestation for the January 1-October 31 period in 2019 is pacing well ahead of the historic norm for the period. Bolsonaro took office in January 2019. Image by Mongabay using INPE data.

The surge of deforestation and burning is the result both of the constant anti-environmental rhetoric and of concrete actions in dismantling the country’s environmental agencies and effectively halting fines for illegal clearing.

The rhetoric and institutional setbacks have been documented in detail in a paper published in Environmental Conservation.

Another satellite-based system used by the INPE known as PRODES, considered more reliable but slower to compile data, reported in late November that in the 12 months beginning August 2018, deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon had passed the 10,000 square kilometer threshold for the first time since 2008.

That represented a 43 percent increase from the preceding 12-month period.

Deforestation in indigenous areas rose even faster, by 74.5 percent from the preceding period, INPE reported.

Overall, PRODES showed that the world’s largest tropical forest lost 10,100 square kilometers in that 12-month period, compared to 7,033 square kilometers in the previous 12 months.

On Friday, Ricardo Galvao, INPE’s former president, was named one of the 10 most important scientists of the year by the respected British journal Nature.

In early August he was fired by the Bolsonaro government, which accused him of exaggerating the extent of deforestation.

Accumulated deforestation from August 1, 2013 through July 31, 2019 for the Brazilian Amazon. Image by Mongabay using INPE data.
Accumulated deforestation from August 1, 2013 through July 31, 2019 for the Brazilian Amazon. Image by Mongabay using INPE data.

Scientists also fear the Amazon is closer to a tipping point where it will enter an irreversible cycle of collapse known as a dieback.

Between 15 and 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been lost, and if the amount of cleared forest land reaches 25 percent, there won’t be enough trees cycling moisture through the rainforest. That will cause the rainforest to dry out and degrade into a savanna.

Next month, Brazil and other countries will gather in Madrid, Spain, to cement the details of how they plan to meet their obligations to fight climate change under the Paris climate agreement.

One of the most important tactics for limiting warming is preserving and restoring natural ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest.

The rainforest stores and takes in a vast quantity of carbon, making a valuable global environmental asset.

However, Bolsonaro has said that international interest in the Brazilian Amazon is a threat to his country’s sovereignty. About 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest’s 2.1 million square mile range is within Brazil’s borders.

“It is a fallacy to say that the Amazon is the heritage of humankind,” he told the United Nations General Assembly in September.

At the Madrid meeting, Brazil will likely face more pressure from other countries to curb deforestation, but it may demand more concessions from other countries to preserve the rainforest, like more favorable accounting rules for emissions reductions or more financial incentives.

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