In the last months of an especially brutal year for the Amazon, the Brazilian rainforest has experienced a last-minute spurt of destruction.
Levels of deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon in November 2019 flared up by almost 104 percent compared to the same month in 2018, according to official satellite data cited by AFP and Reuters. Considering that deforestation usually quietens down towards the end of the year due to the Amazon's rainy season, this rise is especially unusual.
These November figures build on statistics from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) released last month that showed a 29 percent increase in deforestation in 2019 compared to the previous year. Between August 2018 to July 2019, the INPE estimates 9,762 square kilometers (3,769 square miles) of rainforest was slashed, burned, or bulldozed in Brazil – that's 1.8 million football fields.
Much attention was given to the fires in the Amazon earlier this year. Despite claims made by the Brazilian government, a survey of the rainforest in Brazil showed the number of fires in August of this year was three times higher than in 2018 and the highest since 2010.
Deforestation in the Amazon is primarily driven by agriculture, mining, logging, infrastructure development, and – most prominently – cattle ranching. Some of the steepest increases in deforestation occurred here between 1991 to 2003. While rates of rainforest destruction were at their highest in 2008, the past few years have seen another resurgence of land clearing.
Much of this can be blamed on increasing global demand for commodities like beef, soy, and palm oil, however, the rise has also been attributed to the election of President Jair Bolsonaro. Nicknamed “Captain Chainsaw” by environmentalists, the far-right populist president has continued to challenge the status of protected areas and weaken environmental agencies in the hopes of forging Brazil into an economic powerhouse.
Following UN Climate Change Conference COP25 this week, Brazil's environment minister sarcastically tweeted a photograph of a vast beef steak with the caption: "to offset our emissions at COP, a veggie lunch!" President Bolsonaro also repeatedly threatened to take Brazil out of the Paris Climate Agreement during his election campaign, although he appears to have softened that stance during his first year of presidency.
The Brazilian president previously accused the INPE of forging deforestation statistics and being "in the service of NGOs." In August 2019, following a very public spat, Bolsonaro even fired the head of the INPE, Professor Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão, and suggested the government would look for a private company to take over from the INPE’s duties to monitor the Amazon.
Needless to say, these accusations remain unfounded – as does Bolsonaro’s claim that this year’s Amazon fires were started by NGOs and paid for by Leonardo DiCaprio.