Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased again last year, reaching a 12-year high. This emerges from official figures released on Monday that condemned President Jair Bolsonaro’s government.
According to the Brazilian Space Agency’s PRODES monitoring program, which analyzes satellite imagery to track deforestation, a total of 11,088 square kilometers of forest in Brazil’s share of the world‘s largest rainforest were destroyed in the twelve months to August.
This is an area larger than Jamaica and was a 9.5 percent increase over the previous year, when deforestation also hit a more than ten-year high.
“Because of this deforestation, Brazil is likely the only major greenhouse gas emitter that managed to increase its emissions in the year the coronavirus pandemic paralyzed the global economy,” said the Brazilian Climate Observatory, a coalition of environmental groups.
Forests like the Amazon play an important role in combating climate change as they remove carbon from the atmosphere. However, when trees die or burn, they give their carbon back to the environment.
Bolsonaro, a far-right climate change skeptic, has led increasing deforestation and forest fires since taking office in January 2019.
His government is pushing for protected areas to be opened up to mining and agribusiness, and has cut funding for environmental protection programs.
Environmentalists say these policies are fueling the destruction of the Amazon, about 60 percent of which is in Brazil.
“The Bolsonaro government’s vision of development for the Amazon is a throwback to the widespread deforestation of the past. It is a regressive vision that is far from efforts to tackle the climate crisis,” said Cristiane Mazzetti, Greenpeace spokeswoman , in a statement.
Vice President Hamilton Mourao, who presented the numbers at a press conference, defended the government’s commitment to combating deforestation.
“The message I am bringing on behalf of President Bolsonaro is that we will continue to work with science and technology to support the work of environmental protection agencies,” said Mourao, a retired Army general who heads the Bolsonaro Amazon Task Force .
The latest annual deforestation figure was the highest since 2008, when 12,911 square kilometers of forest were destroyed in the Brazilian Amazon.
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