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Ahead of election, deforestation continues to climb in the Brazilian Amazon

  • Newly released analysis of satellite data by Imazon, a Brazilian NGO, shows that deforestation in the Amazon is continuing to climb.
  • Imazon’s deforestation alert system detected 545 square kilometers of forest clearing in August, a tripling of the area deforested the same month a year ago
  • The Brazilian government’s own deforestation detection system, run by the national space research institute INPE, also shows a recent rise in deforestation, albeit a substantially less dramatic increase relative to Imazon.
  • The apparent rise in deforestation this year in Brazil is not unexpected due to current political and economic trends.

Newly released analysis of satellite data by Imazon, a Brazilian NGO, shows that deforestation in the Amazon is continuing to climb ahead of the country’s presidential election.

Imazon’s deforestation alert system detected 545 square kilometers of forest clearing in August, a tripling of the area deforested relative to the same month a year ago. For the twelve months ending August 31, Imazon’s system picked up 4,656 square kilometers of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, the highest such tally since July 2007.

The Brazilian government’s own deforestation detection system, run by the national space research institute INPE, also shows a recent rise in deforestation, albeit a substantially less dramatic increase relative to Imazon. INPE’s twelve month deforestation figure stands at 4,853 square kilometers.

Brazil uses a separate system for tracking deforestation on an annual basis using August 31 as the end of its “deforestation year”. The preliminary data for the 2017/2018 year is expected to be released in late November or early December. For the 2016/2017 year, deforestation amounted to 6,947 square kilometers, a 12 percent decline from the prior year, according to INPE.

The apparent rise in deforestation this year in Brazil is not unexpected due to current political and economic trends. Donald Trump’s trade war with China has reduced the competitiveness of American agricultural products, boosting soy and beef exports from Brazil, including the Brazilian Amazon, which is a major producing region. Brazil’s weak currency is also increasing the profitability of agribusiness in the country at the same time that Brazilian lawmakers are pushing through measures to weaken environmental regulations and protections for indigenous peoples.

Rising deforestation bucks a long-term trend of declining rates of forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon. The annual rate of deforestation in the region dropped from 27,772 square kilometers in 2004 to 4,571 square kilometers in 2012, leading scientists to cheer Brazil as a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon since 2009 according to INPE. Brazil started to lose ground in its progress toward meeting its emissions from deforestation reduction goal in 2015, when deforestation exceeded its official target. It has now missed its mark three years in a row.

Correction 10/3/2018: This article originally misstated INPE’s twelve month deforestation figure at 4,656 square kilometers. It was corrected to 4,853 square kilometers on October 3, 2018 at 16:00 Pacific Daylight Time.