RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon grew 9.5% in 2020 and reached the highest rate of destruction in 12 years, official data released Monday revealed.
The largest forest in the world lost 11,088 square kilometers between August 2019 and July 2020, the equivalent of more than nine times the area of the city of Rio de Janeiro. In the previous two months, the Amazon had lost 10,129 square kilometers.
The data correspond to a monitoring system called Prodes, which is based on detailed satellite images and is presented annually by the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe). The annual rate was reported during the visit of the Vice President, Hamilton Mourao, together with the Minister of Science, Marcos Pontes, to Inpe, in Sao Jose dos Campos, in the interior of São Paulo.
« The result means that we have to maintain the momentum to seek to reduce deforestation rates, » said Mourao, who coordinates the federal government’s efforts to reduce environmental crimes as leader of the National Council of the Amazon.
The destruction of the largest forest in the world has earned Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration criticism inside and outside Brazil. The president has been questioned for an alleged permissiveness with environmental crimes. The recently elected president of the United States, Joe Biden, expressed concern about the care of the environment in Brazil and suggested the creation of a millionaire fund to stop deforestation in the Amazon and that the country should face the consequences if it does not do so.
The growth of deforestation occurred despite the presence of the military in the region, ordered by the government in May, in an operation called « Green Brazil 2 » to suppress environmental crimes. The Associated Press had reported on August 28 that the operation had little effect and that the authorities’ persecution of ranchers, farmers and miners destroying the rainforest had all but stopped.
“The Prodes numbers show that Bolsonaro’s plan worked. They reflect a project of annihilation of the control bodies to take care of our forests, « said the Climate Observatory in a note. The NGO pointed to the reduction of fines, the lack of investment in inspection and the analysis of projects for the exploration of indigenous lands as factors that drove environmental crimes.
The vice president said Monday that the decision to send in the military was late but pondered that it kept the numbers from getting worse. « We started our combat work late this year, and from there (the military dispatch) we observed the beginning of a decreasing trend, » said Mourao. “There was an expectation that the result would be an increase of 20%. We are not to commemorate, but it means that the efforts are beginning to pay off.
Most of the deforestation is concentrated in the states of Pará, Mato Grosso, Amazonas and Rondonia. 47% of the destruction occurred in Pará.