Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest reached record highs for the month of February, preliminary government data showed on Friday, as scientific research indicated the jungle was approaching a tipping point after which it could no longer to maintain.
Deforestation in the region totaled 199 square kilometers (77 square miles) in February, up 62% from the same month a year ago, according to data released by national space research agency INPE. This is the highest level for February since the data series began in 2015/2016 and follows a similar monthly high in January.
In the first two months of the year, destruction was three times higher than the same period in 2021. About 629 square kilometers (243 square miles) have been deforested, an area roughly the size of Chicago. Brazil is home to around 60% of the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, the preservation of which is vital to curbing catastrophic climate change due to the large amount of greenhouse gases it absorbs.
Deforestation in Brazil has increased since right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019 and has weakened environmental conservation, advocating for more commercial farming and mining in protected areas to help get out the Amazon region of poverty. Bolsonaro’s office and the Environment Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday’s data.
Scientists fear the destruction could push the Amazon to a tipping point, after which the jungle would dry out and become savannah, releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gases. A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-022-01287-8 earlier this week found that over the past two decades, more than three quarters of Amazon have already lost some of their ability to bounce back from disruptions like drought and fires.
“Deforestation and climate change, via increases in the length of the dry season and the frequency of droughts, may have already pushed the Amazon near a critical threshold of rainforest dieback,” they said. writes the authors of the University of Exeter. The amount of carbon lost each year from tropical forests – which eventually returns to the atmosphere as climate-warming carbon dioxide – has doubled since the early 2000s, according to a separate study in the journal Nature Sustainability https: //www.nature.com/articles/s41893-022-00854-3 found last month.
Some scientists suspect that deforestation will increase further ahead of Brazil’s October elections, as it has for the past three election years. Authorities are likely to enforce environmental laws less rigorously for fear of upsetting voters, said Carlos Souza Jr, a researcher at the Imazon environmental institute.
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