Preliminary official data published Friday indicate that deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon region over the past 12 months could be at a 14-year high, adding to concerns that President Jair Bolsonaro has failed to rein in destruction of the world’s largest tropical rainforest.
The Brazilian Amazon lost 9,205 square kilometers (3,554 square miles) of vegetation in the 12 months ending in July, according to data from the country’s space agency. That was largely due to a surge of fires in August and September last year.
The overall loss was 34% greater than the prior 12-month period.
The data was produced by Brazil’s Deter monitoring system, which provides daily deforestation alerts based on satellite images. Data from another system named Prodes, which relies on more detailed satellite images and records more of the deforestation, will be released by yearend.
Both are administered by Brazil’s space institute, which tabulates annual deforestation starting with August, when the dry season starts and farmers and loggers traditionally start using fires to clear land.
“If the variation between Deter and Prodes figures remains at the historical average, we could have about 13,000 square kilometers of deforestation, the highest rate since 2006 and three times more than the National Climate Change Policy target for 2020,” said the Climate Observatory, comprised of more than 30 non-governmental groups.
“This is not because of government incompetence in combating devastation; it has been happening because the Bolsonaro administration’s agenda is to actively promote devastation,” the statement added. “This is not incompetence; it’s a design.”
The president’s office referred a request for comment to the office of Vice President Hamilton Mourão, who is coordinating some of the efforts against deforestation in the Amazon, but it had not yet replied.
Bolsonaro came to office promising to open more of the Amazon to development, such as farming and mining. But international concern has led investors to try to distance themselves from the deforestation and to pressure the government to take more action against it.
Bolsonaro dispatched the Army last year to combat Amazon deforestation and fires and in May he stationed troops in several states ahead of the so-called burning season.
Deter data for July registered a decrease from the same month in 2019, when deforestation surged to the highest monthly level since at least mid-2015.