Brazilian Amazon: deforestation still out of control

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased a whopping 64 % in April 2020 compared to April 2019. It's a sign of worse to come.

Deforestation and logging in the Brazilian Amazon, 2019. Photo: Bruno Kelly/Rainforest Foundation Norway

A sign of worse to come

These dramatic figures are based on data from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research's (INPE) real-time deforestation detection system. The most exposed regions are the Xingú basin and the triple border between the states of Mato Grosso, Rondônia, and Amazonas. 

"Both regions, Xingú and the triple-state frontier are crucial to protect as deforestation threatens to fragment vast tracts of continuous rainforest. That would, in turn, permanently damage the ecosystem functions of the Amazon and the world's climate", says Rainforest Foundation Norway's director Øyvind Eggen.

Mato Grosso leads deforestation rates

Mato Grosso has registered the highest nominal rate of deforestation (145 km2), representing 35 % of all the deforestation registered in the Amazon for April. Deforestation in Mato Grosso increased 98 % in April 2020 compared to April 2019 (145 km2 against 73 km2). In one month, from March to April 2020, deforestation increased by 113% (145 km2 against 68 km2).  

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, 2019. Photo: Edmar Barros/Rainforest Foundation Norway

The second highest nominal rate of deforestation was registered in Rondônia (104 km2). Rondônia registered the sharpest increase in deforestation among the states with a 285 % higher rate than in April 2019 (104 km2 compared to 27 km2). From March 2020 to April 2020, deforestation has skyrocketed 352 % in this state.  

 Pará state also registered a sharp increase of 73 % in deforestation compared to 2019 (66 km2 against 38 km2).  

 In total, these figures mean a 55% increase in Amazon deforestation rates for the first four months of the year, compared to 2019. This increase is very alarming and is an omen of even worse forest fires in the coming months. 

Recent drop in Pará underscores importance of police enforcement

 Compared to March 2020, however, Pará registered a substantial  decrease of 83 % (from 121 km2 to 66 km2). The sudden drop in Pará can likely be explained by recent police operations undertaken in Terra do Meio in Xingú by the federal environmental agency Ibama and the Federal Police. These operations were widely broadcast on national TV for several weeks. In spite of - or probably because of - their success and public visibility, those operations led to the dismissal of responsible Ibama officials by the Minister of Environment. The dismissal was a clear signal to forest criminals that forest destruction will continue to be tolerated by the federal government.  

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, 2019. Photo: Bruno Kelly/Rainforest Foundation Norway

"This shows how important police enforcement is to control deforestation. It may be that a lower economic demand due to the corona crisis has also partially contributed. However, there are signals that forest crime continues despite the pandemic," says Øyvind Eggen. 

Indications of new, intense fire season ahead 

In 2019, emergency fire control operations managed to prevent the worst fire scenarios but did not stop deforestation. The accumulation of forest areas that were cut in 2019 but still haven't been burnt, combined with the high rates of deforestation in 2020, indicates that we have a new, intense fire season ahead of us.  

 The most vulnerable areas are undesignated public lands with no clearly defined land tenure. In the first three months of 2020, one-third of all deforestation occurred in these areas. The expectation of a legalization of past and future land grabs by legislation currently under discussion in Congress (#MP910) has boosted the interest of forest criminals for these vulnerable rainforest areas. A vote on this issue may be tabled already next week. 

"These numbers and signals mean that we should remain vigilant. We believe we have a new, intense fire season ahead."

Øyvind Eggen, Director - Rainforest Foundation Norway

Rainforest Foundation Norway calls for concrete action now

"For Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN), these numbers and signals mean that we should remain vigilant. We believe we have a new, intense fire season ahead. Governments and international business actors should step up their efforts to convince Brazilian counterparts to stop the destruction of the Amazon. Brazilian commodities that contribute to deforestation should be avoided. Letters of intent are not enough. We need concrete action now," says Rainforest Foundation Norway's director Øyvind Eggen.