Amazon deforestation hits six-year high in Brazil

Deforestation of the Amazon hit a new record during the first half of 2022.

Satellite data showed more than 3,980 square kilometers, an area five times the size of New York City, were deforested in the first six months of this year, the highest figure going back to at least 2016. Data from the agency also indicated fire activity last month was the highest for June in 15 years from farmers burning forest vegetation to clear land for crops and livestock.

The world’s largest rainforest is one of the planet’s most important “carbon sinks,” absorbing enormous amounts of carbon dioxide from the air and storing it in its vegetation. By removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the Amazon serves as a powerful counterbalance to all the carbon being released and slows the pace of global warming.

The Amazon also plays a key role in regulating regional weather patterns. Its trees discharge water into the atmosphere through their stems, leaves and flowers through a process called transpiration. The released water can form vast rivers in the sky and rain clouds, which can affect precipitation locally and perhaps as far as Mexico and the United States.

But the forest has come under threat in recent decades as land is cleared and converted largely for cattle ranching and farming. Over the last five decades, the Amazon has lost around 17% of its forest.

Some scientists say the Amazon could lose between 20% to 25% of its forest within a decade, which could irreversibly change the ecosystem. The rainforest would be converted into degraded open savanna, endangering biodiversity, shifting regional weather patterns and accelerating climate change.

“We are entering the tipping point range predicted by scientists,” said Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the advocacy network Climate Observatory. “Now each additional number of deforestation in the Amazon pushes us deeper into this irreversible scenario.”

“The deforestation rates under Bolsonaro are double the average of the decade before. That is why they are so alarming,” Astrini said. He said before Bolsonaro, deforestation rose an average of 6,500 square kilometers per year from 2012 to 2018. After Bolsonaro took office, rates were as high as 13,000 square kilometers per year.

“Clearly, fighting deforestation is not a priority of the federal government,” said Ane Alencar, director of science at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute. “The priority seems to be the elections.”

“If we have four more years of the Bolsonaro administration, it will be a government leading us to the collapse of the forest,” said Astrini. “I say it openly, in the October election, the Brazilians will have to make a choice, either Bolsonaro or the forest. Both, for the next four years, will not exist. Only one will survive.”