Amazon deforestation rate at record low

The rate of deforestation in the Amazon decreased by 23% during 2011-2012, according to preliminary figures released by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE)

If confirmed later this year, the statistics would represent the fourth year in a row that the rate has fallen, and the lowest rate since Amazon deforestation was first tracked in 1988.

The data, published in August, was drawn from satellite images taken by Brazil’s Real-Time Deforestation Detection System. As the system only detects larger scale deforestation, this gives an indication of clearance rates before more precise analysis confirms the official figures. An estimated 2,049 sq km was cleared between August 2011 and July 2012, compared with 2,679 sq km detected in the previous 12 months.

To date, around a fifth of the Amazon – which is one of the most biodiverse areas of the planet and plays a vital role in stabilising the climate – has been lost to deforestation. But the rate of loss has fallen 75% since its peak in 2004.

The Brazilian government aims to reduce deforestation by 80% by 2020, while Greenpeace is calling for a law for zero deforestation in the Amazon. In a statement responding to the latest figures, the organisation said: “With political will, it is possible to achieve zero deforestation in Brazil.”

Alongside efforts of NGOs and Amazonian peoples to protect the forest, Brazil’s government has also deployed environmental police to tackle the problem of illegal clearing for farming and logging. According to NGO Global Witness, environmental activists are frequently murdered in the Amazon by people involved in illegal clearance activity.

Although welcoming the deforestation figures, campaigners are concerned that legislation passed in April, could undermine conservation efforts. The Brazil Forest Code – pushed for by agricultural lobbyists – dictates the level of responsibility farmers have for preserving forests. Plans by the government to build new hydroelectric power plants in the Amazon are also seen as a major threat to the rainforest and its inhabitants. However, construction of the controversial Belo Monte dam on the Xingu river – which would flood 500 sq km of land and displace thousands of people – is currently suspended following a successful legal appeal by indigenous and environmental groups.

Upon announcing the deforestation data, the Brazilian government also announced £31m of financial support for sustainable forest projects.