Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest rose in the month of October compared with last year, according to satellite images, in contradiction of pledges by the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro that it would do more to curb illegal deforestation in the area.
The preliminary data from national space research agency INPE showed on Friday about 877 square kilometres (339 square miles) of forest were cleared last month, a 5 percent increase from October 2020. It was the worst October deforestation since the current monitoring system began in 2015.
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The new data comes at a moment when Brazil’s government has been trying to improve its reputation on environmental issues. At the UN climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, (COP26), Environment Minister Joaquim Leite announced on Wednesday a target of zero illegal logging by 2028 — pushing up the goal of 2030 that Bolsonaro had presented at the White House-led climate summit in April.
“We are committed to stop illegal deforestation in the Amazon,” Leite said on Wednesday.
But scientists, diplomats and activists say those promises mean little given how deforestation has soared under Bolsonaro to levels last seen in 2008, as the far-right populist calls for more mining and farming in the Amazon.
“Government announcements are not changing the reality that Brazil is continuing to lose forests,” said Ane Alencar, science director at Amazon Environmental Research Institute, at COP26 in Glasgow.
“The world knows where Brazil stands and this attempt to display a different Brazil is unconvincing, because satellite data clearly shows the reality.”
Bolsonaro has raised concerns among environmentalists by calling for development within the Amazon region and dismissing global complaints about its destruction as a plot to hold back the nation’s agribusiness. His administration has also defanged environmental authorities and backed legislative measures to loosen land protections, emboldening land grabbers.
Bolsonaro has offered a more conciliatory tone on environmental issues since US President Joe Biden took office, promising at a White House Earth Day summit and again at the UN General Assembly to bring down illegal deforestation.
However, the Brazilian president has overseen staffing cuts at environmental agencies, thrown up roadblocks to environmental law enforcement and deployed an ineffective army intervention to disrupt anti-logging operations in the Amazon.
Before Bolsonaro took office in 2019, the Brazilian Amazon had not recorded a single year with more than 10,000 square kilometres (3,861 square miles) of deforestation in more than a decade. Between 2009 and 2018, the average per year was 6,500 square kilometers. It averaged 10,500 square kilometres (4,054 square miles) in the first two full years of Bolsonaro’s term.
“The data from Deter is a reminder that the same Brazil that circulates in the corridors and halls of COP26, in Glasgow, is the same where land grabbers, illegal loggers and miners have a government license to destroy the forest,” the Climate Observatory, a network of environmental groups, said in a statement.