The highest Amazon deforestation rates in over a decade

Nine thousand seven hundred square kilometers of rainforest were lost in Brazil in 2019. – These are very alarming numbers, says Rainforest Foundation Norway.

Intentionally set fires caused large parts of the Amazon to burn in August and September. Such human-made fires are a key cause of the high deforestation in 2019.

Photo: Bruno Kelly / Rainforest Foundation Norway.

Brazilian authorities today announced the official deforestation figures for the 2019 forest year (August 1, 2018, to July 31, 2019). Data from the PRODES satellite monitoring system confirms that the deforestation rate is the worst in more than a decade. 9700 km² were lost.

- These figures confirm what we feared, namely that 2019 has been a dark year for the rainforest in Brazil. The numbers are alarmingly high. We must remember that the Amazon has been undergoing deforestation for decades. We are approaching a potential tipping point, where large parts of the forest will be so damaged that it collapses. A loss the size of what we’ve seen this year is terrible news, says Secretary-General Øyvind Eggen of Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN).

Satellite monitoring of the Amazon

PRODES is the name of the Brazilian government's satellite deforestation monitoring program for the Brazilian Amazon.

• The system has produced annual deforestation figures since 1988. These figures are made publicly available.

• PRODES uses very high-resolution satellite imagery, providing a 95 percent accuracy level.

In the wake of the fires that ravaged the Amazon in August and September, it was emphasized that these fires did not represent a normal year. RFN’s Secretary-General Øyvind Eggen is clear that neither are the deforestation figures that were just published.

- This is a result of political decisions and actions in Brazil. The Brazilian government has, through its words and deeds, shown that it is not interested in prosecuting illegal logging, including by placing restrictions on the environmental police, IBAMA. That has led to a widespread belief that it is acceptable to take liberties with the remaining rainforest. We now see the results: a disaster for the Amazon.

Eggen laments that there is no sign of any change in the policies for the Amazon. Just last week, Brazilian minister of agriculture Teresa Cristina attacked the long-standing soy moratorium, calling it "absurd".

The soy moratorium is the soy industry's self-imposed ban on selling soy grown in recently deforested areas.

- The soy moratorium was introduced because the soy industry was about to destroy the Amazon, and the ban has been useful. It is risky to cast doubt on the moratorium. I'm actually very concerned about the mere signal of discussing it at this point. We know that parts of the Brazilian agribusiness sector are quick to interpret this kind of message as a free pass to take liberties and exploit the Amazon.

Eggen believes Norway and other countries must react immediately to the deforestation figures presented now.

- A clear message must be sent to Brazil to change its policy. For instance, no country should ratify any trade agreement with Brazil until the deforestation trend is reversed and the level approaches the goals Brazil has set for itself through national climate legislation and the Paris Agreement. Also, foreign investors and businesses trading with Brazil must set precise requirements and demand documentation that their business counterparts’ activities do not contribute to deforestation.