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Brazil warns Amazon annual deforestation 'up 28 percent'

Deforestation in the Amazon has increased by almost a third in the last year, the Brazilian government has revealed. The figure is a stark reversal on the decline in deforestation witnessed in recent years.

Brazil's government reported Thursday that the annual destruction of its Amazon rainforest jumped by 28 percent over the past year.

"We confirm a 28-percent increase in the rate of deforestation, reaching 5,843 square kilometers (2256 square miles)," Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira told a press conference. That equates to an area the size of the US state of Delaware cleared within one year. Teixeira cited provisional statistics from satellite data gathered from August 2012 to July 2013.

That compared to 4,571 square kilometers cleared the previous year, when monitors recorded the lowest level of Amazon felling since Brazil began tracking deforestation in 1988.

While large in percentage terms, however, four straight years of decline mean the figure remains the second-lowest amount of jungle destroyed.

Teixeira listed extensive farming and soybean production in the northern state of Para and the central western state of Mato Grosso as key factors behind the rise, noting 37 and 52 percent increases respectively.

Activists, meanwhile, have listed an apparent loosening of the nation's environmental laws as an additional cause for the latest figures, something which Teixeira dismissed.

"The Brazilian government does not tolerate and does not accept any rise in illegal deforestation," the minister said.

Activists blame law changes

A bill revising the Forest Code law, passed in Congress last year, was also criticized by environmentalists for easing restrictions for landowners with smaller properties. Among other things it allowed them to clear land closer to riverbanks. The changes also got rid of penalties for those who illegally clear-felled land, provided they signed an agreement to replant trees.

The government's push for big infrastructure projects such as dams, roads and railways has also been listed as a factor in increased deforestation.

"The government can't be surprised by this increase in deforestation, given that their own action is what's pushing it," said Paulo Adario, coordinator of Greenpeace's Amazon campaign.

"The change in the Forest Code and the resulting amnesty for those who illegally felled the forest sent the message that such crimes have no consequences."

Brazil tracks the amount of land cleared annually as part of its efforts to protect the rainforest. Scientists consider the Amazon forest, which produces oxygen and fresh water, as a crucial natural buffer against global warming.

ccp/ch (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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