Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has reached its highest level since 2008, the country’s space agency (Inpe) reports.
Over 11,000 sq km of rainforest were destroyed from August 2019 to July 2020. This is a 9.5% increase from the previous year and represents more than the area of a football pitch being cleared every minute, the BBC reports.
This deforestation is done to create fields for cattle grazing and soya cultivation, big earners for Brazil.
None of this should be a surprise as President Jair Bolsonaro, was elected on a promise of development and scientists say the rainforest has suffered losses at an accelerated rate since he took office in January 2019.
The Amazon is home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people, but, keen to promote mining as well as agriculture, Bolsonaro describes it as “a periodic table” of valuable minerals, and he resents what he sees as outside interference.
In addition to encouraging development of the rainforest, Bolsonaro has also cut funding to federal agencies with the power to fine and arrest farmers and loggers breaking environmental law.
Bolsonaro has previously clashed with Inpe over its deforestation data. Last year, he accused the agency of smearing Brazil’s reputation.
In a statement, Brazilian NGO Climate Observatory said, “The deforestation figures reflect the result of a successful initiative to annihilate the capacity of the Brazilian state and the inspection bodies to take care of our forests and fight crime in the Amazon.”
But some government officials maintain that the rate of increase in deforestation is actually lower than that recorded last year and is a sign of progress.
“While we are not here to celebrate this, it does signify that the efforts we are making are beginning to bear fruit,” Vice-President Hamilton Mourao told reporters.
Climate scientists say the billions of trees in the Amazon are a vast store of carbon and, without them, the rise in global temperatures will accelerate.
Brazil this year has seen the largest fires for a decade. Some say this is a direct result of deforestation.