- Between January and September this year, the Amazon lost 7,854 km² of vegetation cover.
- INPE and President Bolsonaro have clashed repeatedly over the data.
- Soon after the data was released, massive forest fires broke out, drawing international attention and condemnation.
Deforestation in the Amazon grew 92.7% between January and September this year, compared to the same period last year, according to data released this Friday by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The destruction of the forest in these first nine months has already surpassed by 58.7% recorded in the year 2018.
According to data from the Real-Time Deforestation Detection System (DETER), between January and September this year, the Amazon lost 7,854 km² of vegetation cover. In September alone, 1,447 km² were devastated, a 96% increase over the same period last year.
Based on satellite imagery, DETER triggers alerts about areas being deforested. The reports can be used to indicate trends in deforestation increase or decrease, and serve as a parameter for Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) inspectors to act in the most threatened regions. Data on total forest destruction per year are recorded by INPE‘s Satellite Legal Amazon Deforestation Monitoring Project (Prodes), which will be released in November.
The release of DETER data in June, which revealed the increase in deforestation, caused a crisis between INPE and the government of Jair Bolsonaro, which culminated in the resignation of the president of the institute. Bolsonaro disputed the information and accused INPE director, Ricardo Galvao, of lying and acting “in the service of an NGO.” In response, Galvao defended the work of the institute.
The Ministry of the Environment challenged INPE’s methodology and the president even said that numbers would have been “beaten” to reach the country. Soon after the crisis caused by the data, there was an increase in forest fires in the Amazon. The fires drew international attention. The recent acceleration of the devastation has caused the governments of Germany and Norway to suspend transfers to Brazil to finance sustainable development projects.
Due to deforestation and burning in the region, Bolsonaro has come under heavy criticism from European politicians, who threatened to suspend the trade agreement between Mercosur and the European Union (EU). Some German politicians have even asked Brazil for sanctions because of the way the Bolsonaro government deals with the environment. Bolsonaro was involved in the exchange of protracted words with French President Emmanuel Macron, who accused him of lying about his environmental policies during the June G20 summit in Japan.
Brazil is home to 60% of the Amazon rainforest, which is a key regulator for the planet’s living systems and also for the country’s rainfall rate. Its trees absorb about 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year and release 20% of the planet’s oxygen.
After being considered an environmental success story, Brazil has been losing this space, especially since the election of Bolsonaro. He has repeatedly stated its intention to exploit the forest and denied the existence of climate change. Given the president’s speech, and the government’s environmental agenda, experts fear deforestation will reach alarming levels in the coming years.