Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon slowed slightly last year, a year after a 15-year high, according to closely-watched numbers published Wednesday. The data was released by the National Institute for Space Research.
The agency's Prodes monitoring system shows the rainforest lost an area roughly the size of Qatar, some 11,600 square kilometers in the 12 months from August 2021 to July 2022.
That is down 11 percent compared to the previous year, when over 13,000 square kilometers were destroyed.
For more than a decade it looked as though things were getting better for the Brazilian Amazon. Deforestation had declined dramatically and never rose back above 10,000 square kilometers. That was before the presidency of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, beginning in January 2019.
An analysis of the new yearly data from Climate Observatory, a network of environmental groups, shows that in the four years of Bolsonaro's leadership, deforestation rose 60 percent over the previous four years. That is the largest percentage rise under a presidency since satellite monitoring began in 1998.
In one state, Para, a fierce rate of destruction went down by 21 percent yet it was still the center of one-third of all Brazil's Amazon forest loss. Part of the tree cutting and burning happens in areas that are ostensibly protected. One such area is Paru State Forest, where the nonprofit Amazon Institute of People and the Environment registered 2 square kilometers of deforestation in just October.
"In recent years, deforestation has reached protected areas where previously there was almost no destruction," Jakeline Pereira, a researcher with the Amazon Institute, told The Associated Press. "In Paru's region, the destruction is driven by lease of land for soybean crops and cattle."
Another critical area is the southern part of the state of Amazonas, the only state that increased deforestation in the most recent data, by 13 percent compared to the year before. It's largely attributable to Bolsonaro's push to pave about 400 kilometers of the only road that connects Manaus, home to 2.2 million people, with Brazil's larger urban centers further south. Most Amazon deforestation occurs alongside roads where access is easier and land value is higher.
The Amazon rainforest, which covers an area twice the size of India, acts as a buffer against climate change by absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide. It's also the most biodiverse forest in the world, and the home of tribes that have lived in the forest for thousands of years, some of them living in isolation.