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Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon jumps 28% in 2013

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon jumped 28% in 2013 sparking concerns that recent progress in reducing forest loss in the world’s largest rainforest may be in danger of reversing.

The preliminary data, released Thursday by the Brazilian government, shows that 5,843 square kilometers (2,256 sq miles) of rainforest was cleared across the “Legal Amazon” between August 1, 2012 and July 31, 2013. Deforestation a year earlier was the lowest since annual record-keeping began in 1988.

61 percent of deforestation occurred in just two states: Pará (41 percent) and Mato Grosso (20 percent). Both states lies on agricultural frontier known as the “Arc of Deforestation”. Rondônia was third with 16 percent.

The jump in deforestation was not unexpected. Monthly data released by both the Brazilian government and Imazon, a Brazil-based NGO, has shown deforestation pacing well ahead of year-ago rates.

It’s unclear why deforestation is on the rise, but environmentalists have cited last year’s weakening of the Forest Code, which governs how much forest private landowners are required to preserve, as a possible factor. The weakening Brazilian currency could also be a contribute by making agricultural exports more competitive in overseas markets. The majority of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is driven by large-scale agriculture and cattle ranching.

The numbers mark a sharp reversal from the trend of declining deforestation in the region. The annual rate of forest clearing fell 84 percent between 2004 and 2012.

The drop in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has been attributed to a number of factors, including improved law enforcement facilitated by a satellite-based forest monitoring system, loan subsidies tied to compliance with environmental regulations, a massive expansion in the extent of protected areas, public pressure on the private sector to clean up supply chains, and macroeconomic factors like the strengthening real.

Nonetheless Brazil’s deforestation rate in the Amazon remains well below the level of just two years ago at a time when deforestation is generally on the rise across other Amazon countries.

Brazil’s 2013 figure — once finalized — would still come in below the target of 7,980 sq km set under its climate action plan. That initiative aims to reduce emissions from deforestation by 4.8 billion tons between 2006 and 2017, an amount greater than the annual emissions of Canada and the E.U. combined.

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