Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased again over the past year, hitting a 12-year high, according to official figures released on Monday that drew a condemnatory run by President Jair Bolsonaro’s government.
A total of 11,088 square kilometers of forest were destroyed in Brazil’s share of the world’s largest rainforest in the 12 months to August, according to the Brazilian Space Agency’s PRODES monitoring program, which analyzes satellite images to track deforestation.
This corresponds to an area larger than Jamaica, and was an increase of 9.5 percent from the previous year, when deforestation also hit a peak of more than ten years.
“Due to such deforestation, Brazil is probably the only major greenhouse gas emitter that managed to increase its emissions during the year that the coronavirus pandemic paralyzed the global economy,” said the Brazilian Climate Observatory, a coalition of environmental groups.
Forests such as the Amazon play an important role in controlling climate change because they absorb carbon from the atmosphere. But when trees die or burn, they release their carbon back into the environment.
Bolsonaro, a skeptic on the right of climate change, has been chairing increasing deforestation and forest fires since taking office in January 2019.
His government is pushing to open up protected lands for mining and farming companies and has cut funding for environmental protection programs.
Environmental activists say that this policy is driving the destruction of the Amazon, of which about 60 percent is located in Brazil.
“The Bolsonaro government’s vision of development for the Amazon is a return to the unpleasant deforestation of the past. It is a regressive vision that is far from the effort required to deal with the climate crisis,” Greenpeace spokeswoman Cristiane Mazzetti said in a statement.
Vice President Hamilton Mourao, who presented the figures at a press conference, defended the government’s commitment to combating deforestation.
“The message I bring to President Bolsonaro is that we will continue to work with science and technology to support the work of environmental agencies,” said Mourao, a retired Army general who heads Bolsonaro’s Amazon working group.
The most recent annual deforestation was the highest since 2008, when 12,911 square kilometers of forest were destroyed in the Brazilian Amazon.