An area five times the size of New York City has been destroyed in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest over the first six months of 2022, reaching a record high level of deforestation, a preliminary government report published on July 8 indicates.
From January to June, 3,988 square km (1,540 square miles) were cleared in the region, according to the national space research agency INPE.
This is an increase of 10.6 percent as compared to the first six months of last year, and the highest level for that period since the agency began compiling its current DETER-B data series in mid-2015.
The Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, contains vast amounts of carbon, which is released as trees are destroyed, warming the atmosphere and driving climate change.
Deforestation brings more fires
This year’s rising deforestation is also feeding unusually high levels of fire, which are likely to worsen in the months ahead, said Manoela Machado, a wildfire and deforestation researcher at the University of Oxford.
Brazil recorded the highest number of fires in the Amazon for the month of June in 15 years, although those blazes are a small fraction of what is usually seen when fires peak in August and September, according to Inpe data.
Generally, after loggers extract valuable wood, ranchers and land grabbers set fire to the land to finish clearing it for agriculture.
Deforestation a hot issue of Brazil’s politics
Activists and experts in Brazil blame right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro for rolling back environmental protections and emboldening loggers, ranchers and land speculators who clear public land for profit.
Environmentalists are banking on leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who presided over a steep decline in deforestation during his presidency from 2003 to 2010, winning in October’s election for a turnaround in Brazil’s environmental policy.
However, according to scientists and activists, it is unlikely that Bolsenaro’s potential election loss will significantly impact this year’s already high levels of deforestation and fires, as loggers and land grabbers seek to capitalise on the weak enforcement of the policy ahead of a potential change in government.