RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon dropped for the second consecutive month in August compared to the same period in 2020, according to preliminary data released Friday by the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research.
Forest destruction in August reached 918 square kilometers (354 square miles), the lowest indicator for the month since 2018 and 32% less than in 2020, according to daily alerts compiled by the the institute's Deter monitoring system.
That data is considered a leading indicator for complete calculations released near yearend from the more accurate system, Prodes. Following four earlier months of increase, the accumulated deforestation in 2021 has now declined slightly by 1.2% compared to last year, according to the preliminary data.
Márcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, a network of environmental nonprofit groups, told The Associated Press that it's premature to know if there's a clear trend of decreased deforestation.
Before President Jair Bolsonaro’s took office in 2019, the Brazilian Amazon hadn’t recorded a single year with more than 10,000 square kilometers of deforestation in over a decade. Between 2009 and 2018, the average per year was 6,500 square kilometers compared to the average of 10,500 square kilometers during Bolsonaro's term.
Bolsonaro has encouraged development within the Amazon region and dismissed global complaints about its destruction as a plot to hold back the nation’s agribusiness. His administration also has defanged environmental authorities and backed legislative measures to loosen land protections, emboldening land grabbers.
The government recently has tried to improve its environmental credibility. On Thursday, Bolsonaro told leaders of the BRICS group — which also includes Russia, India, China and South Africa — that he is committed to protecting the environment and complying with the Paris climate agreement.
But Astrini of the Climate Observatory said he saw no change in government attitudes that might favor reduced deforestation.
“Environmental fines remain uncollected in Brazil and there are just few enforcement operations," he said, seeing no clear policy explanation for the improved numbers. “The government ignores the environmental issue. The deforestation numbers just depend on the will of the criminals."
Burning to clear land in the Amazon region has become a growing problem. According to the space agency, in August more than 28,000 fires were registered in the region, the third highest indicator for the month since 2010.