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Two new studies show the alarming rate of deforestation in Brazil during the first year of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro’s time in office. Both studies were released days after video footage revealed the environmental minister advocated for environmental deregulation while the public remained distracted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Since Bolsonaro took office in January last year, he has made promises to end environmental oversight and encouraged industrial development in rainforests, prompting huge deliberate wildfires set all over the Amazon rainforest.
News of the scale of deforestation made headlines in August last year, sparking rage and shock across the world about the loss of one of the world’s most powerful tools against global heating.
In one study, researchers found Brazil had lost 12,000 square kilometres of forest last year. Conducted by experts at multi-institutional organisation MapBiomas, the study found that over three-quarters of the deforestation happened on land via a self-registration system that Brazilian farmers used to claim ownership, and that 99% of it was illegal.
MapBiomas confirmed the scale of deforestation with high-resolution images from Brazil’s Space Research institute.
Many of these farmers in Brazil deliberately set wildfires in order to deforest land for more cattle ranching to meet global demand for beef, or to grow cheap soybeans to use as livestock feed. Hong Kong happens to be one of the biggest importers of Brazilian beef in the world.
Scientists have repeatedly flagged animal agriculture as one of the key drivers of deforestation, mass biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions, and have called for a global transition to a plant-based food system in order to combat the climate crisis.
MapBiomas’ study also reveals that the Brazilian government knows who is responsible for deforestation, but has actively failed to hand out fines to discourage fire-setting. According to an investigation by the Human Rights Watch, Amazon fines have been suspended since last October after new guidelines were introduced by the Bolsonaro administration.
The second study, conducted by nonprofit SOS Atlantic Forest, showed that there had been a 27% increase in the destruction of tropical forests in eastern Brazil from October 2018 to the same period in 2019.
Both studies were published shortly after video footage showing the environment minister Ricardo Salles encouraging the government to use the coronavirus pandemic as a cover to take away the country’s few remaining environmental protection laws.
In the video of the ministerial meeting, Salles said: “We need to make an effort while we are in a quiet moment for press coverage because they only talk about Covid.”
Conservationists have been outraged at the comments, which further confirms the government’s strategy to weaken all environmental policies, which will result in further deforestation. Currently, the Bolsonaro government is trying to approve a new policy to allow farmers who had illegally grabbed land on protected reserves to claim legal title.
Want to help save the Amazon rainforest? Here are 8 things that you can do right now.
Lead image courtesy of Victor Moriyama / AFP via Getty Images.