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Amazon deforestation soared in 2021

Kieran Burke
July 19, 2022

South America's largest country is losing trees at a rate of 18 per second according to a new report. Study authors Mapbiomas said this represents an increase of 20% during the course of 2021.

Cattle graze on land recently burned and deforested by cattle farmers in Para state, Brazil
The authors of a new report say the rate of deforestation in the Amazon is 18 trees per secondImage: Andre Penner/AB/picture alliance

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased by more than 20% last year according to a report released on Monday by environmental thinktank Mapbiomas.

The Brazil-based organization made up of universities, NGOs and tech companies said there has been growing deforestation observed in all biomes and that over the course of three years, the deforested area reached 42,000 square kilometers —  almost the equivalent landmass of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil: The fear of the Amazon loggers

About 18 trees per second hacked down

Mapbiomas said there had been 16,557 square kilometers of native vegetation lost during the course of 2021. According to the study's figures, deforestation was taking place at a rate of 189 hectares an hour.

During the course of 2020 the area lost to deforestation was calculated to be 13,789 square kilometers.

"In the Amazon alone, 111.6 hectares were deforested per hour or 1.9 hectares per minute, which is equivalent to about 18 trees per second," the organization said.

Land being cleared for agriculture was found to be the leading cause of deforestation with mining, urban expansions, and construction of wind and solar plants among the contributing factors.

Researchers validated 69,796 "deforestation alerts" during the course of 2021. These "deforestation events" were evaluated on an individual basis, with a variety of factors taken into consideration, including data from protected areas and authorizations with data from protected areas.

Lack of enforcement a key issue

Deforestation was taking place on properties registered on the rural environmental register (CAR) and accounted for 77% of the deforested area which according to the study "means that in at least three-quarters of deforestation, it is possible to find a person responsible."

Nearly 20,000 properties were found to be repeat offenders, pointing to a lack of law enforcement, the study suggested.

"To solve the problem of illegality, it is necessary to attack impunity — the risk of being penalized and held accountable for the illegal destruction of native vegetation must be real and properly perceived by environmental offenders," explained Tasso Azevedo, coordinator of MapBiomas.

Azevedo said action was required on three fronts with the need to ensure that "all deforestation is detected and reported; all illegal deforestation receives accountability and punishment of offenders (e.g. fines, embargo); the offender does not benefit from the illegally deforested area and receives some type of penalty."

Deforestation rises under Bolsonaro administration

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has a questionable track record when it comes to the preservation of the Amazon.

His administration has been accused of rendering environmental authorities toothless and has backed legislative measures to loosen land protections.

The Brazilian Amazon hadn't recorded a single year with more than 10,000 square kilometers of deforestation in over a decade before Bolsonaro's term began in January 2019.

The Karipuna Indigenous community has taken the Brazilian government to court, demanding permanent protection from encroachment on their territory.

Karipuna land isamong the eight most illegally deforested Indigenous territories in Brazil.

HRW cast doubt over Bolsonaro's empty promises

In April 2021, speaking at the Leaders Summit on Climate convened by the United States, Bolsonaro insisted he was committed to protecting the Amazon and even pledged more resources for environmental law enforcement. But since taking office in 2019, his administration has done nothing but accelerate the destruction of the rainforest, according to Human Rights Watch.

At which point, the NGO said Bolsonaro's "climate commitments cannot be taken seriously."

Brazilians head to the polls in October as the incumbent seeks a second term, with some NGOs, environmental experts and activists arguing the Amazon's future is at stake.

Brazilian rail link planned through rainforest

Material from AFP contributed to this report

Edited by: John Silk