Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon jumped by 21.97 percent this year, reaching its highest level since 2006. In total, 13,235 square kilometers (5,110 square miles) were destroyed between August 2020 and July 2021, casting major doubt on Brazil’s apparent commitment to ending deforestation in the next decade.
The figures, released by the country’s space research agency INPE, are based on satellite data and reveal an alarming continuation of illegal logging in the Amazon. Earlier this month, Brazil joined over 100 other nations in pledging to reverse deforestation by 2030, yet these findings signal a lack of political will to meet that goal.
At the recent COP26 climate summit, a significant Brazilian delegation went to great lengths to convince attendees that it is doing all it can to protect the Amazon. However, according to both the BBC and The Guardian, Brazil’s government knew of these deforestation statistics prior to the conference but chose to withhold them until after the event in order to avoid undermining its claims.
Acknowledging the latest figures, environment minister Joaquim Pereira Leite told reporters that “the numbers are still a challenge for us and we have to be more forceful in relation to these crimes.” Given that deforestation has now risen for a fourth consecutive year, however, conservationists say that such statements are becoming meaningless.
Last year, for instance, a total of 10,851 square kilometers (4,190 square miles) of forest were cut down, representing a 7.1 percent increase on the previous 12 months. In 2019, meanwhile, deforestation rose by a staggering 34.4 percent, while in 2018 it increased by 8.5 percent.
The Amazon rainforest is seen as a key climate change battleground as its trees absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide. The loss of this vital ecosystem would likely have catastrophic consequences and could make it impossible to hit climate targets such as limiting global warming to below 1.5°C (2.7°F).
Furthermore, the global pledge to end and reverse deforestation is highly unlikely to succeed without the cooperation of Brazil, considering the vast area of rainforest that the country is home to.
In recent years, president Jair Bolsonaro has encouraged miners and agriculturalists to increase their activities in the Amazon, drawing criticism from around the world. His government now says that it is determined to protect the world’s largest rainforest, yet the data continues to contradict these assertions.