A vast expanse of Amazon rainforest seven times the size of Greater London has been destroyed in the past year, with deforestation peaking 12 years under Brazilian far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
Figures released Monday by the Brazilian space institute Inpe showed that at least 11,088 km2 of rainforest were cleared between August 2019 and July of this year – the highest figure since 2008.
Carlos Rittl, a Brazilian environmentalist who works at the German Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, said the numbers were “humiliating, shameful and outrageous” – and a clear sign of the damage to the environment since Bolsonaro took over. his duties in January 2019.
“It’s an area a third the size of Belgium – gigantic areas of forest that are lost just because under Bolsonaro those who destroy don’t fear punishment,” Rittl said.
“Bolsonaro’s great environmental achievement has been this tragic destruction of forests which has made Brazil perhaps one of the greatest enemies of the global environment and also an international outcast.
Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão tried to put a positive spin on the grim numbers during his visit on Monday to Inpe’s headquarters in the city of São José dos Campos. Mourão claimed that the annual increase of 9.5% was less than half of the expected figure of around 20%.
“We are not here to commemorate anything, because it is nothing to commemorate. But this means that the efforts launched [against Amazon deforestation] are starting to bear fruit, ”Mourão said.
Environmentalists, who blame Bolsonaro’s deliberate weakening of law enforcement efforts for the hike, scoffed at this reading. “This figure is outrageous – it doesn’t tell us anything positive about the Bolsonaro administration. On the contrary, it shows that despite the [Covid-19] quarantine, environmental crime has increased, ”Rittl said.
Mourão’s comment about the smaller-than-expected increase was “as if we were to say we expected 300,000 Covid deaths and we had ‘only’ 200,000,” Rittl added.
Cristiane Mazzetti, spokesperson for Greenpeace for the Amazon, said: “This is an even worse figure than 2019 and a direct reflection of the anti-environmental policies of the Bolsonaro administration which have weakened monitoring agencies and used misguided strategies to combat deforestation, such as deploying armed forces rather than environmental protection officers. ”
“These numbers show us that we are continuing to move in the wrong direction than needed to address the climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis.”
The Observatório do Clima group said the skyrocketing destruction came as no surprise to those “who have followed the dismantling of environmental policy that has been underway in Brazil since January 2019”.
“The numbers just show that Jair Bolsonaro’s plan worked. They are the result of a successful project to destroy the ability of the Brazilian state and its monitoring agencies to take care of our forests and fight crime in the Amazon ”, he said in a statement. .
Mourão said the figures, which were produced with information from the Prodes satellite system, showed that most of the devastation was occurring in four regions: Pará state, northern Mato Grosso state, southern the state of Amazonas and Rondônia.
Pará, a long-standing deforestation hotspot, was by far the most affected state, accounting for almost 47% of total deforestation.
“Thanks to Inpe’s work, we now have a perfect idea of what to focus our actions on in order to prevent illegal activities,” Mourão told reporters, praising his “brilliant scientists” for their efforts.
But despite a growing “green” government propaganda campaign – which recently saw Mourão take foreign ambassadors on a tour of the Amazon region – environmentalists and foreign investors are skeptical of his efforts to protect the world’s largest rainforest. .
During the three-day excursion, the ambassadors were not taken to any of the deforestation hot spots that Mourão detailed on Monday – and activists called the visit a “sham.”
In May, thousands of Brazilian soldiers were sent to the Amazon supposedly to fight environmental crime, though some believe they are only making matters worse.
Rittl said a ray of light was the recent defeat of Bolsonaro’s main international ally, Donald Trump. “Without Trump’s support in the United States, international pressure [on Bolsonaro over the environment] will increase and it will increase a lot, ”he predicted.
Bolsonaro is among the small group of world leaders who have yet to recognize Joe Biden’s victory and claimed on Sunday, without evidence, that anonymous “sources” had convinced him that the US election had been rife with fraud .