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Brazil’s Amazon hit by worst deforestation since 2006

A deforested area close to Sinop, in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, in August 2020. (Florian Plaucheur/AFP/Getty Images)

Brazil’s Amazon rainforest lost more trees over the past year than in any year since 2006.

Satellite data revealed that deforestation rose by nearly 22 percent from the last period to reach its highest level in 15 years, the National Institute for Space Research found, in a country that is home to most of the world’s largest rainforest.

The numbers come after leaders of more than 100 nations promised at the COP26 climate summit this month to end deforestation over the next decade.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who had made campaign promises to open the Amazon to business development, missed the climate summit in Glasgow, though his country joined the global pledge to save the world’s trees.

With the rate of destruction not slowing, critics questioned whether Brazil can meet its target, and some accused Bolsonaro’s administration of delaying the release of the latest deforestation benchmark until after the U.N. summit — an allegation the environment minister denied.

The world has pledged to stop deforestation before. But trees are still disappearing at an ‘untenable rate.’

The Amazon in Brazil lost more than 5,000 square miles of rainforest from August 2020 to July 2021, the government research center said in a report that was dated Oct. 27 and shared on Thursday. It was the fourth year in a row that the rate of deforestation rose, it said.

Climate activists have warned of the risks of letting the global pledge fall short: The devastation of forests drives up greenhouse gas emissions, and Global Forest Watch found the world lost 411 million hectares of forest between 2001 and 2020 — roughly half the size of the United States.

The rainforest in Latin America’s largest country, under pressure from farming, logging and wildfires, is at the heart of the struggle to limit emissions. Trees absorb carbon dioxide when they grow, slowing global warming, but release it into the atmosphere when they decay, or are cut or burned.

Brazil’s Environment Minister Joaquim Leite called the new figures on Thursday “unacceptable” and said the cabinet would do more. At a news conference, he said the data did not reflect recent curbs on environmental crimes.

However, advocacy groups such as the Climate Observatory blamed policies such as road expansion and cuts to environmental fines for making “the world’s largest rainforest disappear before our eyes.” It accused the state of delaying the report’s publication.

“This is the real Brazil that the Bolsonaro administration is trying to hide with its fantasy speeches and greenwashing,” the World Wildlife Fund said in a statement.

The Brazilian president has faced such accusations before. In 2019, he described deforestation data from the National Institute for Space Research as a lie. The head of the research agency was dismissed after he criticized the president and maintained that the data was accurate.

The Ministry of Science and Technology did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegation. While the research agency’s workers union said that the government would have known about the annual report, which was ready in October, Leite, the environment minister, told reporters that he had only seen the data this week: “Exactly like you.”

Read more:

More than 100 world leaders pledge to halt deforestation by 2030

Brazil, once a champion of environmentalism, grapples with new role as climate antagonist

E.U. seeks to block import of commodities that drive deforestation

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