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Amazon deforestation unexpectedly surges 22% to highest level since 2006

Heat spots in areas with Prodes warnings (2017-2019). Area next to the borders of the Kaxarari Indigenous territory, in Lábrea, Amazonas state. Taken 17 Aug, 2020. CREDIT: © Christian Braga / Greenpeace

Heat spots in areas with Prodes warnings (2017-2019). Area next to the borders of the Kaxarari Indigenous territory, in Lábrea, Amazonas state. Taken 17 Aug, 2020. CREDIT: © Christian Braga / Greenpeace

  • Deforestation in Earth’s largest rainforest surged 22% to the highest level since 2006, according to official data released today by the Brazilian government.
  • Preliminary analysis of satellite data by Brazil’s national space research institute INPE shows that 13,235 square kilometers (5,110 square miles) of rainforest was cleared in the Brazilian Amazon between August 1, 2020 and July 31, 2021.
  • The sharp increase came as a surprise: Data from INPE’s near-real-time deforestation alert system had set expectations for a modest year-over-year decline in the rate of forest destruction.
  • Deforestation has been on an upward trend in the Brazilian Amazon since 2012.

Deforestation in Earth’s largest rainforest surged 22% to the highest level since 2006, according to official data released today by the Brazilian government.

Preliminary analysis of satellite data by Brazil’s national space research institute INPE shows that 13,235 square kilometers (5,110 square miles) of rainforest — an area nearly the size the land area of the state of Maryland or the country Montenegro — was cleared in the Brazilian Amazon between August 1, 2020 and July 31, 2021. Last year, 10,851 square kilometers of forest were chopped down.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, 2006-2021 according to INPE. Data for 2021 is preliminary.

The sharp increase came as a surprise: Data from INPE’s near-real-time deforestation alert system had set expectations for a modest year-over-year decline in the rate of forest destruction, though independent monitoring by Imazon, a Brazilian NGO, suggested Brazil’s forest loss would rise substantially.

The rise in deforestation was led by the state of Amazonas, where forest clearing jumped by 836 square kilometers, or 55%. It was followed by Mato Grosso (484 square kilometers – 27%), Rondônia (408 square kilometers – 32%), and Pará (358 square kilometers – 7%). Deforestation rose in all nine states that are considered part of the “legal Amazon” as defined by the Brazilian government.

Preliminary Amazon deforestation share by state in 2021 according to INPE. Final data is expected in mid-2022.
Most deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has occurred over the past 15 years in Pará, but the rate of loss in the state of Amazonas has been accelerating sharply of late.

Deforestation has been on an upward trend in the Brazilian Amazon, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the entire Amazon rainforest, since 2012. It has accelerated particularly sharply under the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, who campaigned on the idea of opening up vast swathes of forest to loggers, miners, ranchers, and industrial agriculture.

The news comes a little less than a week after COP26 closed in Glasgow, Scotland. At the climate conference, Brazil signed the Glasgow declaration on forests and pledged to rein in “illegal deforestation” by 2028. But critics noted the declaration isn’t legally binding and that the Bolsonaro administration has been relaxing environmental laws, effectively legalizing deforestation that was once considered illegal, undercutting its commitment.

Accumulated deforestation (sq km) recorded during the first three years of recent presidential administrations in Brazil.

The Brazilian Amazon has lost nearly 20% of its forest cover since the early 1970s. Scientists have warned that the ecosystem may be approaching a tipping point where vast areas of rainforest transition to a woody savanna. Such a development would have dire implications for carbon emissions, biodiversity, and regional rainfall as well as the Indigenous peoples and other communities that inhabit the forest.

Fire in a recently deforested area in Aripuanã, Mato Grosso on Jul 30, 2021. Photo © Christian Braga/Greenpeace

Header image: Fire in the Amazon in 2020. Image by Christian Braga / Greenpeace.