July 10, 2020 / 1:36 PM / a month ago

Brazil Amazon deforestation up in June, set for worst year in over a decade

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rose for the 14th consecutive month in June, preliminary government data on Friday showed, heaping further pressure on President Jair Bolsonaro who is under fire for worsening destruction of the rainforest on his watch.

Destruction rose 10.7% percent for the month, compared to June 2019, according to national space research agency Inpe. In the first six months of the year, deforestation is now up 25% to 3,066 square kilometers (1,184 square miles), agency data showed.

“The pressure is increasing,” said Mariana Napolitano, advocacy group WWF-Brasil’s head of science.

“The deforestation data by itself shows that we now have a very complicated situation that is out of control in the Amazon.”

If there is another increase in deforestation in July, Brazil is headed for annual deforestation of more than 15,000 square kilometers, or an area larger than Connecticut, said Ane Alencar, science director at Brazil’s Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM).

That would be up from 10,129 square kilometers last year and the highest level of deforestation since 2005, according to official government data.

Inpe measures annual deforestation from August 2019 to July 2020, with the figures slated for release late in the year.

Researchers and environmental advocates blame Bolsonaro for emboldening illegal loggers, ranchers and land speculators by weakening environmental enforcement and calling for more commercial mining and farming in the Amazon to develop the economy.

Bolsonaro says he is being unfairly demonized and that Brazil has an exemplary environmental track record, pointing to vast swathes of forest that remain standing.

Following global pressure, especially from foreign investment firms, Bolsonaro has deployed the military to combat deforestation since May and next week is slated to ban fires in the Amazon region for 120 days.

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of a tract of Amazon jungle after it was cleared by farmers in Itaituba, Para, Brazil September 26, 2019. Picture taken September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes/File Photo

Bolsonaro signed a decree extending authorization for the military deployment until Nov. 6, according to a notice published in the official government gazette on Friday.

Scientists say that preserving the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, is vital to curbing climate change because of the vast amount of greenhouse gas it absorbs and stores.

For Jan. 1 through June 25, IPAM and U.S.-based Woods Hole Research Center calculated that deforestation and fires in Brazil’s Amazon released 115 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, up roughly 20% from the same period a year ago. That is, according to their analysis, equivalent to the annual emissions of 25 million cars.

Reporting by Jake Spring; Additional reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Editing by Nick Zieminski

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