• Is Amazon Deforestation Getting Worse?

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Is Amazon Deforestation Getting Worse?

Jan 28 2021

Deforestation in the Brazilian part of the Amazon Rainforest has reached its highest levels for over a decade, according to new data published by the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE). Last year, a total of 4,281 square miles of forest cover were razed to the ground in Brazil, which is an area larger than the Big Island in Hawaii.

It’s the biggest deforestation incident since 2008, when 4,984 square miles were destroyed. While the news is certainly distressing, it’s far from surprising, since Amazon deforestation has been steadily getting worse since the lows experienced in 2012. The presidency of right-wing anti-environmentalist Jair Bolsonaro and the distractions of COVID-19 have only exacerbated the issue, leading to this year’s record-breaking figures.

A global problem

There are many reasons behind deforestation of the land in the Amazon Rainforest. Much of the tree cover is cleared away for logging and mining purposes, while more still is given over to agriculture. Indeed, the cultivation of crops such as palm oil and soybeans place a great strain not just on the land, but on other essential resources like water, which is why monitoring abstraction for agriculture is a crucial way of keeping tabs on the problem.

While these activities occur in Brazil, it’s the demand for their end products across the rest of the world which cause them to happen in the first place. Moreover, many banks and other financial institutions have close ties with the deforestation industry in Brazil and bankroll its operations, earning vast profits at the expense of the environment.

Recent developments making the situation worse

Deforestation, then, is not exactly a new problem, but it has certainly become worse in recent decades. Peak levels of logging and tree burning were recorded in the 1990s and early 2000s, but growing awareness of the harmful impacts of such activity saw the situation improve. However, the election of Bolsonaro in 2018 signalled more trouble for the region, since the new president has prioritised the country’s economy ahead of all else.

The pandemic which has ravaged the world has also played its part in an indirect way. One of the lesser reported environmental implications of coronavirus in 2020 was the fact that some opportunistic politicians in Brazil (and elsewhere) used the disease as a smokescreen to push through damaging law reforms and ramp up deforestation efforts while regulators were distracted. One senior official was even caught on camera stressing the benefits of adopting such a stance during the COVID-19 outbreak.  

“This was already expected. Instead of acting to prevent the increase in deforestation, the Bolsonaro government has been denying the reality of the situation, dismantling environmental agencies, and attacking NGOs who work on the ground in the Amazon,” explained Cristiane Mazzetti of Greenpeace Brazil. “Because of the federal government’s anti-environmental policies, deforestation in Brazil is almost three times higher than the target for 2020 set by the country’s National Policy on Climate Change.”

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