SAO PAULO - Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest spiked more than 80 per cent in August from a year earlier, preliminary government data showed on Friday, with fires raging at a record-breaking pace.
Government satellite data showed 7,135 square kilometres were cleared in the Amazon from January to August, up 19 per cent from the same period of last year, according to national space research agency Inpe, which collects the data.
In August alone, deforestation totalled 1,661 square kilometres, an 81 per cent increase from the same month in 2021.
With the beginning of burning season this month, there were 33,116 Inpe fire alerts, the second-worst on record in a decade.
In Brazil, farmers cut down the forests and set trees on fire to clear land, and sometimes these fires run out of control.
Environmental advocates blame far-right President Jair Bolsonaro for this accelerated decline.
During his term, Bolsonaro has scaled back environmental oversight, and called for more commercial farming and mining in the Amazon saying it will reduce poverty, inviting global outrage over his handling of a region crucial to slowing global warming.
"Deforestation is completely out of control in the Amazon.
It is the result of a very successful anti-environmental policy that has been implemented in the last almost four years," said Greenpeace Brazil's Cristiane Mazzetti, referring to Bolsonaro.
"This accelerated destruction is pushing the Amazon close to a tipping point where it would fail as a rainforest. Such fast environmental change would be catastrophic for the global climate and biodiversity," she added.
Bolsonaro's office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
The incumbent now lags leftist former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in polls ahead of the Oct 2 election. Yet, Lula is also likely to struggle to turn the situation around, said Marcio Astrini, head of local environmental group Climate Observatory.
"Bolsonaro might leave the government, but as an inheritance to his successor he leaves an environmental crisis in the Amazon," Astrini said. REUTERS