The rate of deforestation in Brazil was the highest this year than it has been in more than a decade, according to startling new government data.
The deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon hit 9,762 square kilometers, or a nearly 30 percent increase, in the 12 months through July 2019, according to Reuters. The data was recorded by the country’s INPE space research agency and was the worst level of deforestation since 2008.
The information comes as tens of thousands of fires have raged in the Amazon rainforest this year, which is often referred to as “the lungs” of the planet. Many of the fires were likely started on purpose in order to promote illegal deforestation to make room for cattle grazing.
This is exacerbated by the fact that farmers likely don’t fear punishment from the Brazilian government and its current president, Jair Bolsonaro, according to reports.
This latest data prompted Brazil’s Environment Minister Ricardo Salles to blame the issue on illegal logging, mining and land grabbing, Reuters reported, which he admitted needed to be addressed. Environmental advocacy group Greenpeace, however, simply blamed the government.
“We are reaping what the Brazilian government has sowed since Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign,” Greenpeace’s Amazon Campaigner, Cristiane Mazzetti, said in a statement. “President Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental agenda has scrapped Brazil’s ability to fight deforestation, favors those who practice environmental crimes, and encourages violence against forest peoples. Bolsonaro’s administration is trashing practically all the work that has been done in recent decades to protect the environment.”
Brazil and other countries will gather in Madrid, Spain, next month to discuss climate change under the Paris climate agreement, however Vox reported that Bolsonaro has claimed such international attention on the Brazilian Amazon is a threat to the country’s sovereignty.
“It is a fallacy to say that the Amazon is the heritage of humankind,” Bolsonaro told the United Nations General Assembly in September.
Currently, the Amazon produces about 20 percent of the world’s oxygen, Travel + Leisure previously reported, and if enough of it burns, it could turn the area into an arid desert that would be unable to process carbon.