It looks like loggers, ranchers, and miners in Brazil didn't have very ambitious new year’s resolutions. Off the back of an especially harsh year of forest fires in the Amazon, Brazil set a new deforestation record for January, doubling figures from the same month in 2019.
Upwards of 280 square kilometers (108 square miles) of rainforest were destroyed last month, according to AFP, which cites preliminary statistics from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), a Brazilian agency that uses satellite imagery to keep tabs on deforestation in real-time. That figure was around 136 square kilometers (52 square miles) this time last year.
This spike in deforestation is especially worrying since Brazil is currently in its rainy season when deforestation activities typically slump.
"The increase in January 2020 is very worrying. It suggests that the factors that caused the increase in deforestation in 2019 are still very active. It's time for effective and comprehensive action to control and contain illegalities in the Amazon," Carlos Nobre, a climatologist and senior researcher at the Institute of Advanced Studies at São Paulo University, told Brazilian news portal G1.
All in all, 2019 was a terrible year for deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon, seeing some of the most extreme rates for a decade. INPE data shows around 9,800 square kilometers (3,783 square miles) of the Amazon were slashed, burned, and logged in 2019 – that’s an area considerably larger than the state of Delaware.
Deforestation in the Amazon is overwhelming driven by animal agriculture, although logging, mining, and infrastructure development also make significant contributions. Cattle ranching alone accounts for 80 percent of all converted lands in the Amazon rainforest, according to a report by the World Bank.
The past summer saw a huge amount of international attention on the surge in fires occurring in the Amazon rainforest across Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Peru. The Brazilian government claimed that the rates of deforestation were normal, arguing that the hysteria was being fanned by North American and European governments through NGOs. In an especially bizarre twist, President Jair Bolsonaro even accused the actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio of bankrolling the fires.
Bolsonaro, a vocal climate change skeptic and hostile opponent of environmental restrictions, attracted much of the criticism for last year’s fires. In the heat of the forest fire scandal last year, the notoriously hotheaded president fired the head of the INPE, Ricardo Galvao, and accused the agency of fabricating statistics.
However, an independent scientific study later found the 2019 Amazon wildfires should not be considered “normal,” despite such claims.
With all that said, rates of deforestation were notably more brutal through the 1990s and 2000s. The worst year on record was 1995 with 29,100 square kilometers (11,235 square miles) of the Amazon being destroyed. The Amazon also saw approximately 27,800 square kilometers (10,733 square miles) of deforestation in 2004.
The Amazon is one of the most important biomes on our planet. It plays a key role in maintaining natural processes on Earth, serving as the world's largest terrestrial carbon dioxide sink, and plays a significant role in mitigating global warming. Along with being home to some 20 million indigenous people, it also holds the largest collection of living plants and animal species in the world.