New data from the Brazilian space institute published Tuesday point to a surge in deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in the last quarter, fueling fears that President Jair Bolsonaro’s pro-agrobusiness policies will accelerate deforestation.
Figures of the National Institute for Space Research, a federal agency, show that more forest was lost between May and July this year than during the same period in 2018, 2017 and 2016. In July alone, the rainforest lost 2,254 square kilometers (870 square miles) of vegetation, between three and five times the surfaces lost the same month in the past four years.
This is the biggest surge in deforestation rates since the institute adopted its current methodology in 2014.
Brazil contains about 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, a key regulator in the planet’s living systems. Its trees take in as much as 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year and release 20 percent of the planet’s oxygen.
Brazil was once heralded as a global environmental success story. But some fear increasing deforestation will accelerate under Bolsonaro, a climate change skeptic with a strongly pro-agrobusiness agenda.
“This is a very serious setback,” said Malu Ribeiro, a project coordinator at SOS Mata Atlantica, a nonprofit organization whose work focuses on another endangered area, Brazil’s Atlantic Forest.
Ribeiro criticized the way the government has been imposing its environmental agenda. “They are trying to forcefully implement an agenda of deconstruction, of deregulation, with total disrespect for institutions, or science,” Ribeiro said. “Since the (end of the military regime), in 1985, we’d never seen anything like it.”
On the campaign trail, Bolsonaro vowed to help mining and agribusiness companies expand their activities in environmentally protected areas, including the Amazon. Since he was sworn into office on Jan. 1, he has shown on multiple occasions that he will stick to his campaign promises.
He appointed a like-minded environment minister, Ricardo Salles, who was found guilty of modifying an environmental protection plan surrounding a river basin to favor mining groups when he was Secretary of Environment for Sao Paulo state between 2016 and 2018.