Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest hits record January high

Area seven times the size of Manhattan destroyed by forest clearances

The Amazon rainforest has been hit by a record level of deforestation last month, research suggests.
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Brazil recorded the most deforestation ever in the Amazon rainforest for the month of January, according to government data on Friday, as destruction continues to worsen despite the government's recent pledges to bring it under control.

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon totalled 430 square kilometres (166 square miles) last month, 5 times higher than January 2021, according to preliminary satellite data from government space research agency Inpe.

That's the highest since the current data series began in 2015/2016, equal to an area more than seven times the size of Manhattan.

Environmental researchers said they were not surprised to see destruction still rising, given right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro's weakening of environmental protections.

With little fear of punishment, speculators are increasingly clearing forest for ranches in illegal land grabs, said Britaldo Soares Filho, an environmental modelling researcher at the Federal University of Minas Gerais. High prices for beef, soy and other commodities are also boosting the demand for cheap land.

"People might be surprised that it didn't increase even more," Mr Soares Filho said.

"There is a race to deforest the Amazon."

Mr Bolsonaro's office and the Environment Ministry did not immediately respond to request for comment on the deforestation figures or the government's environmental policies.

The preservation of the Amazon, the world's largest rainforest, is vital to curbing climate change because of the vast amount of greenhouse gas absorbed in its trees.

There is a race to deforest the Amazon
Britaldo Soares Filho

Mr Bolsonaro has long argued for more commercial farming and mining in the Amazon to help lift the region out of poverty.

Facing international pressure from the United States and Europe, Brazil last year pledged to end illegal deforestation by 2028 and signed a global pact to stop all forest destruction by 2030.

Soon after those commitments, Inpe released data showing that deforestation in 2021 in the Brazilian Amazon hit the highest point in 15 years. The preliminary data for January shows the destruction is continuing to mount.

Ana Karine Pereira, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia, said while Mr Bolsonaro and his government changed their tone last year, their policies remain the same.

Mr Soares Filho and Ms Pereira said deforestation will only stop rising if Mr Bolsonaro loses the presidential election in October.

High deforestation is unusual in the current rainy season, when the rainforest is harder for loggers to access. The January data showed that new clearing was still less than half of what is common during the peak months from June to September.

Updated: February 13, 2022, 1:11 AM