The world may have taken its eye off the Amazon in recent months in order to focus on the coronavirus pandemic, but new figures released by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) have set the alarm bells ringing once again by revealing a shocking acceleration in deforestation.
Catastrophic Amazonian wildfires were headline news for much of 2019, yet it seems little has been done to protect South America’s iconic rainforest in spite of widespread global concern. According to the new data, 3,066 square kilometers (1,184 square miles) of Brazil’s Amazon were destroyed during the first six months of 2020, representing a 25 percent increase on the same period last year.
June 2020 saw deforestation reach a monthly record of 1,033 square kilometers (399 square miles), which is 10.7 percent higher than the same month in 2019 and 24.3 percent higher than May of this year. The unpublished Inpe report explains that if deforestation continues to escalate at this level, then we could be on course for the most destructive year since 2005.
With the dry season having now begun in the Amazon, the risk of wildfires is approaching its peak. Last summer saw a record number of fires in the region, with many placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who is accused of encouraging illegal logging, mining, and farming in the Amazon and failing to impose conservation measures.
Some 2,248 fires were recorded in the Brazilian Amazon last month, which eclipses the number from June 2019. This has led to fears that the coming months could surpass last year’s fire season in terms of destruction.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly rejected criticism of his handling of the emergency and has stated his support for more commercial activity in the Amazon. Ironically, however, his determination to prioritize the economy over the environment has forced him to finally take measures to protect the rainforest, after international investors began to demand that the Brazilian government start tackling deforestation.
According to Reuters, Bolsonaro has been deploying the military since May in an attempt to curb deforestation and is now expected to announce a 120-day ban on lighting fires in the Amazon. Clearly, though, his attempts to be seen to be doing something are so far not producing any positive results, which means that unless something changes, 2020 could be about to get even more apocalyptic.