Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest fell 15% in March from a year earlier, preliminary government data showed on Friday, but even with that drop it was enough to drive the most destruction in the first quarter in at least six years.
From January to March, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose 64% from a year ago to 941 square kilometers (363 square miles), according to data from the national space research agency Inpe. This area, larger than New York City, is the most forest cover lost since the data series began in 2015/2016. The destruction of the world’s largest rainforest has increased since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019 and has weakened environmental protections, arguing they are hampering economic development that could reduce poverty in the Amazon region.
The president’s office and the Department of the Environment did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A report by the UN’s climate panel warned on Monday that governments are not doing enough to rein in greenhouse gas emissions to stave off the worst effects of global warming. While the use of fossil fuels is mainly to blame, deforestation accounts for around 10% of global emissions, according to the report.
“Brazil is an example of what the UN climate report says when it refers to governments not taking action,” said Cristiane Mazzetti, a forest activist in Brazil for the advocacy group the Greenpeace environment. “We have a government that is deliberately going against the measures needed to limit climate change.”
Some scientists predict that deforestation will continue to increase ahead of Brazil’s October presidential election, as it has before the last three elections. Environmental law enforcement typically weakens during election years and criminals may rush to deforest before a new government takes office, according to Imazon Institute researcher Carlos Souza Jr.
A poll on Thursday showed leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose administration dramatically reduced deforestation in the 2000s, would win 45% of the vote to Bolsonaro’s 31% in the first round of elections.
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