Now it's official: Amazon deforestation is the highest since 2006
The Project for Monitoring Deforestation in the Legal Amazon by Satellite (PRODES), of the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) released today (18) the data on deforestation in the Legal Amazon between August 2020 and July 2021. The figures, which are considered official by the government, confirm the trend already indicated by the monthly deforestation alerts from the INPE's DETER system: it was the most devastating year since 2006, consolidating a macabre series of three consecutive records under Bolsonaro's administration.
Overall, it is estimated that the Amazon lost 13,235 km² in the period, an increase of 22% compared to 2020, when 10,852 km² of forest destruction have been recorded. For three years in a row, the forest destruction increased, jumping from levels around 6-7 thousand km²/year after 2016 to a worrying stability above 10 thousand km².
Pará state led destruction rates, with 5,257km² (40% of total deforestation in the period), followed by the states of Amazonas and Mato Grosso.
"This is the real Brazil that the Bolsonaro government is trying to hide with fanciful speeches and greenwashing actions abroad," says Mauricio Voivodic, executive director at WWF-Brazil.
"What reality shows is that the Bolsonaro government has accelerated the path of destruction in the Amazon. If we do not reverse this trend, ending deforestation, and restoring already degraded areas, the Amazon forest could reach a tipping point and start an accelerated process of degradation. If that happens, Brazil will no longer rely on the vital environmental services it provides, such as carbon storage and regulation of the country's rainfall," he warns.
In addition to the risk of loss of the forest's environmental services and the devastating effects on the climate caused by deforestation in the Amazon, PRODES data also raise red flags for the economy. Earlier this month, during COP 26, more than 100 countries pledged to eliminate deforestation - a commitment reiterated in the bilateral agreement signed last week between the two largest economies on the planet, the United States and China. Companies from the UK, with support from their government, have announced a bold manifesto against any kind of deforestation related to soy production. An announcement that addresses both forest and non-forest ecosystems (such as part of the Cerrado biome) and that does not even accept legal deforestation. This week, the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, released a proposal to block the importation of commodities associated with deforestation and forest degradation, setting the year 2030 as the limit for deforestation.
"If deforestation is not stopped immediately, Brazilian agro exports will be increasingly restricted to a small number of countries that have not yet joined these agreements. These are marginal markets that, in the future, should also join the global effort to face deforestation. In the case of Brazil, deforestation is by far the main source of emissions of the gases that are changing the climate across the planet," warns Voivodic.
Importantly, deforestation is one of the most brutal causes of emissions, as it threatens life and the planet's natural history in two ways. The first of them, immediately, by eliminating local biological diversity, favoring epidemics and causing major impacts on livelihoods. The second one, in the medium-long term, because it causes the accumulation of greenhouse gases, changes in the water system, as well as impacts on several other key environmental services for humanity.
Amazon tipping point closer and closer
A week ago, at COP 26, the final report of the Scientific Panel on the Amazon, which brought together more than 200 scientists to assess the current state of the biome, was released. The main conclusion is that the forest is already close to a "tipping point" after which its stability is compromised, starting an automatic process of degradation that can no longer be stopped. Also according to that report, the region known as the "Arc of Deforestation" has already become a strip of the Amazon that emits carbon into the atmosphere, instead of absorbing it. Currently, deforestation in the Amazon accounts for almost half of Brazilian emissions.
“Keeping the forest standing is essential if we are to meet the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting the increase in the planet's average temperature to up to 1.5 °C by the end of the century,” recalls Voivodic. Also according to the report by the Scientific Panel of the Amazon, the forest removes from the atmosphere more than 1 billion tons of CO2 per year, which corresponds to half of all the greenhouse gases released by Brazil last year.
Deforestation in the Amazon has already impacted the rainfall regime across the Midwest and Southeast of Brazil, causing serious damage to the country's water and food security. Furthermore, in the wake of deforestation, land grabbing, mining and land invasion have increasingly put the survival of indigenous populations and traditional communities at risk.