Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon pacing 88% higher than last year's rate

Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
May 18, 2013

Satellite analysis by a Brazil-based NGO indicates that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon continues to pace well ahead of last year, when the government passed a weakened version of its law governing use of forest lands.

Imazon's near-real-time deforestation tracking system — known as SAD — detected 1,570 square kilometers of accumulated forest loss between August 2012 and April 2013, an 88 percent increase over the 836 sq km cleared during the year earlier period. However accumulated forest degradation was down by nearly a quarter, according to the system.

The Brazilian government's own tracking system suggests a more moderate rise in deforestation between the two periods. INPE, Brazil's National Space Research Agency, earlier this month released its numbers, which estimated forest loss between August 2012 and April 2013 at 1864 sq km, 14 percent higher than the 1631 sq km from a year earlier.

In either case the near-real-time systems aren't as accurate as the systems used for tracking annual deforestation, which is measured at the peak of the dry season each year when cloud cover is at a minimum. The shorter-term tools, which have relatively coarse resolution, are used mostly for alerting authorities on the location of forest clearing, rather than measuring changes in forest cover.

While deforestation appears to be tracking higher this year, it's still well below historical levels. Nevertheless were deforestation to double over last year's 4,656 sq km, Brazil would miss its 2013 target of limiting clearing to 8,000 sq km. That target is set to ratchet down to 5,586 sq km in 2014.

The drivers behind the rise in deforestation are still unclear, but one factor could be last year's revision of the country's Forest Code, which limits how much forest can be cleared on private lands in the Amazon. Environmentalists fighting changes to the code, said the revision could lead to an increase on forest conversion for cattle pasture and farms. Brazil's currency, the real, has also weakened since last April, making its agricultural exports more competitive and more profitable for farmers.

More than 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest — Earth's largest tropical forest — is located in Brazil.

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Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com (May 18, 2013).

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon pacing 88% higher than last year's rate.