Conservation news

Amazon rainforest the size of Sao Paulo cleared in July in Brazil

Hotspot next to a deforested area registered by Prodes (Brazilian Amazon Satellite Monitoring Project), in Nova Maringá, Mato Grosso state. Every year, Greenpeace Brazil flies over the Amazon to monitor deforestation build up and forest fires. In July, 2020, flights were made over points with Deter (Real Time Deforestation Detection System) and fire warnings, made by Inpe (National Institute for Space Research), in Pará and Mato Grosso states. Focos de calor próximos a área com registro de desmatamento Prodes, em Nova Maringá (MT). Todos os anos, o Greenpeace Brasil realiza uma série de sobrevoos de monitoramento para registrar o avanço do desmatamento e das queimadas na Amazônia. Em julho de 2020, monitoramos pontos com alertas do Deter e de pontos de calor, do Inpe, nos estados do Pará e Mato Grosso.

  • An area of rainforest larger than the city of São Paulo was cleared during the month of July, bringing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon to 9,205 square kilometers over the past 12 months, according to official government data released today by Brazil’s National Space Research Institute INPE.
  • INPE’s satellite-based deforestation alert system registered 1,654 square kilometers of forest clearing last month, a decline from the 2,255 square kilometers detected the same month a year ago. Still, forest loss in the region puts the 2019/2020 deforestation year, which runs from August 1 to July 31, to be the highest since at least 2007.
  • The sharp year-over-year rise in deforestation was confirmed by Imazon, a Brazilian NGO that independently monitors forest loss in the region, which found a 29% increase via its “SAD” system.
  • Deforestation has been trending higher since 2012 but accelerated since early 2019.

An area of rainforest larger than the city of São Paulo was cleared during the month of July, bringing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon to 9,205 square kilometers over the past 12 months, 34% higher than a year ago, according to official government data released today by Brazil’s National Space Research Institute INPE. The news comes as the region moves into its peak deforestation and fire season, which typically runs through September.

INPE’s satellite-based deforestation alert system — called DETER — registered 1,654 square kilometers of forest clearing last month, a decline from the 2,255 square kilometers detected the same month a year ago. Still, forest loss in the region puts the 2019/2020 deforestation year, which runs from August 1 to July 31, to be the highest since at least 2007. INPE is expected to release the preliminary 2019/2020 estimate, which is based on analysis of higher resolution data using a system called PRODES, in October or November.

The sharp year-over-year rise in deforestation was confirmed by Imazon, a Brazilian NGO that independently monitors forest loss in the region, which found a 29% increase via its “SAD” system. Like INPE, Imazon also registered a drop in deforestation in the month of July compared with a year ago, but Carlos Souza, a senior researcher at the Imazon, said the small month-over-month decline probably wasn’t a sign that the situation in the Amazon is improving.

“According to our SAD monitoring system, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon closed the 12 month season with 6,536 square miles, an 29% increase over the previous calendar, he told Mongabay. “There is no reason to celebrate a reduction in deforestation in July 2020 relative to July 2019, which was detected by both SAD and DETER alert systems. We have to account for the entire season to assess the real impact. Sadly, deforestation in 2020 is likely to be higher than in the previous year when the annual statistics from Prodes get released.”

Deforestation has been trending higher in the Brazilian Amazon since 2012. Brazil accounts for about 60% of the Amazon rainforest.

Short and long-term deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. The small chart in the upper left shows annual deforestation according to INPE’s PRODES system. The large chart shows monthly deforestation according to INPE’s DETER alert system.

Deforestation has accelerated since early 2019. Scientists and NGOs attribute the acceleration to Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s policies and rhetoric. Bolsonaro has relaxed environmental law enforcement and penalties for infractions; issued executive orders opening up protected areas and indigenous lands to logging, mining, and agribusiness; and disparaged environmentalists and human rights advocates.

“The ongoing devastation reveals the hollowness of the Brazilian government’s attempt to persuade investors and international trading partners that they are serious about protecting the Amazon, said Paulo Barreto, a senior researcher at Imazon, in a statement. “Deforestation was already bad, the trend was upwards, then the government reduced law enforcement last year. They have a very erratic discourse against environmental protection. We would have to have rules, implement them, monitor and punish those who break them.”

Hotspots in an area with degraded forest, in Itanhangá, Mato Grosso state. © Christian Braga / Greenpeace

“It will be difficult to contain deforestation if the government continues with its intention to change land legislation and legalize deforested and illegally invaded areas,” added Brenda Brito, an associate researcher at Imazon. “Land grabbing is a vector of deforestation, which is encouraged with the expectation of amnesty and legalization.”

Marcio Astrini, the executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, a Brazilian network of 52 NGOs and social movements, said the increase in deforestation means that Brazil is running afoul of its climate change law.

“INPE data indicate that Brazil has failed to comply with its climate change law, whose goal for 2020 was to limit deforestation in the Amazon to a maximum of 3,925 square kilometers,” Astrini said via a statement. “This also diverts us from the Paris Agreement route, which will create a series of trade difficulties for Brazil in the critical period of economic recovery expected for the post-pandemic period.”

Mist rising from the Amazon rainforest at dawn. Photo by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay.

Scientists warn that ongoing deforestation in the Amazon could push the rainforest ecosystem to a tipping point where the biome shifts toward drier forest or wooded grassland like the adjacent chaco forest or cerrado. Such a transition could have dramatic impacts on regional rainfall patterns and temperatures, forest-dependent peoples and wildlife, fire incidence, and carbon emissions.