Deforestation is about organised crime, sponsored by big land holders, cattle ranchers and land grabbers that operate with impunity.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was 25 percent higher for the first six months of the year compared with twelve months earlier, caused by thousands of forest fires, expanding road networks and a failure to enforce environmental laws.
Official data from the Brazilian government’s satellite monitoring programme showed that 3,070km2 were lost between January and June 2020 compared with 2,446km2 in the same period in 2019.
The level of deforestation is the highest the tropical rainforest – the world’s largest – has reached since 2008, according to the letter by scientists, published in the journal Science.
Within lands inhabited by Indigenous people, which make up 23 per cent of the Brazilian Amazon, deforestation quadrupled in four years to almost 500km2 in 2019.
The majority of land deforested so far this year, and almost half of that cut down in 2019, is set to be burned in the second half of the year, scientists predict. In addition, a severe drought in the area is also expected in mid to late 2020, they said.
Smoke from the fires is responsible for 80 percent of increases in fine particulate pollution in the area, causing shortness of breath, coughing and lung damage. Research has shown a link between these pollutants and Covid-19 infection, and scientists predict that the fires will aggravate the pandemic in the area, where one in 100 people are already infected.
Indigenous peoples are at particular risk, given that they are currently suffering Covid-19 mortality rates that are 1.5 times the Brazil-wide average, they added.
The scientists noted that pressure on the Brazilian government from investors, large corporations and the European Union were slowly gaining momentum, but that the government’s response to ban fires for 120 days was not enough to halt or reverse the crisis.
Romulo Batista, Greenpeace Brazil campaigner, said: “Deforestation is about organised crime, sponsored by big land holders, cattle ranchers and land grabbers that operate with impunity, shielded by the dismantling of the environmental protection policies and law enforcement that the Bolsonaro administration continues to advance in Brazil.”
Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for The Ecologist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.