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Amazon deforestation reaches 12-year high after area larger than Jamaica removed in last year

11,088 square kilometres of forest was destroyed in Brazil last year.

Smoke rises from the Brazilian rainforest (file photo)
Smoke rises from the Brazilian rainforest (file photo)
Image: DPA/PA Images

DEFORESTATION IN THE Brazilian Amazon has risen to a 12-year high this year, according to new figures released yesterday.

A total of 11,088 square kilometres of forest was destroyed in Brazil’s share of the world’s biggest rainforest in the 12 months to August, according to the Brazilian space agency’s PRODES monitoring program, which analyses satellite images to track deforestation.

The figure is equivalent to an area larger than Jamaica, and was a 9.5% increase from the previous year, when deforestation also hit a more than decade-long high.

“Because of such deforestation, Brazil is probably the only major greenhouse gas emitter that managed to increase its emissions in the year the coronavirus pandemic paralysed the global economy,” said the Brazilian Climate Observatory, a coalition of environmental groups.

Forests such as the Amazon play a vital role in controlling climate change because they suck carbon from the atmosphere. However, when trees die or burn, they release their carbon back into the environment.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right climate-change skeptic, has presided over rising deforestation and wildfires since taking office in January 2019.

His government is pushing to open protected lands to mining and agribusiness, and has slashed funding for environmental protection programs.

Environmentalists say those policies fuel the destruction of the Amazon, about 60% of which is in Brazil.

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“The Bolsonaro government’s vision of development for the Amazon is a throwback to the rampant deforestation of the past. It’s a regressive vision that’s far from the effort needed to deal with the climate crisis,” Greenpeace spokeswoman Cristiane Mazzetti said.

Vice President Hamilton Mourao, who presented the figures in a press conference, defended the government’s commitment to fighting deforestation.

“The message I bring in the name of President Bolsonaro is that we will continue working with science and technology to support the work of environmental protection agencies,” said Mourao, a retired army general who heads Bolsonaro’s Amazon task force.

The latest annual deforestation figure was the highest since 2008, when 12,911 square kilometres of forest were destroyed in the Brazilian Amazon.

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