SAO PAULO • The destruction of Brazil's Amazon forest, the world's largest intact rainforest, increased by 16 per cent this year from a year ago, as the government struggles to enforce legislation and stop illegal clearing.
Satellite data for the 12 months through the end of July released on Thursday showed that 5,831 sq km of forest was cleared in the Brazilian Amazon.
The data released by the environment ministry on Thursday confirmed preliminary information released by environmental institutions recently that showed an increase in deforestation after a fall seen last year. It comes at a sensitive moment for the Brazilian government as countries around the world gather in Paris to discuss a new global climate agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Deforestation makes up around 15 per cent of the world's heat-trapping gases, more than the entire transport sector.
A big increase in deforestation in the Mato Grosso state, Brazil's top grains and livestock producer, was the main factor behind the rise. Landowners in Mato Grosso cleared around 1,500 sq km of forest, compared to around 1,000 sq km last year.
"It was a surprise, particularly the increase in Mato Grosso," Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira told reporters in Brasilia. "Pressure for more logging is again strong and coming from agriculture and livestock activities."
Besides being a giant carbon sink, the Amazon is a biodiversity sanctuary, holding a myriad of species yet to be studied. The government often launches police operations to fight illegal loggers, but environmental groups say more is needed.
Ms Teixeira said she has called governors in the states that had the biggest increases in deforestation to discuss the situation. They would be asked to present evaluations explaining why deforestation increased.
Despite the jump this year, the cleared area is still much smaller than in the past, as the country managed to sharply reduce the Amazon's destruction since it began tracking deforestation in 2004, when almost 30,000 sq km of forest was lost.
A study published in the journal Science Advances last week showed deforestation threatens more than half of all tree species in the Amazon.
Researchers studied the status of more than 15,000 Amazonian tree species and found that at least 36 per cent and up to 57 per cent of the Amazon's tree species should qualify as threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.
Their findings suggest that the number of globally threatened plant species could increase by 22 per cent, and globally threatened tree species by 36 per cent.
"We have never had a good idea of how many Amazonian species were vulnerable," said Mr Nigel Pitman, a tropical ecologist at the Field Museum in Chicago and one of the authors of the paper.
The team constructed a computer model to analyse two scenarios. The first, called the "business as usual" model, estimated that by 2050, about 40 per cent of the original Amazon forests would disappear. The second scenario, in which governments enacted stronger preservation regulations, estimated that 21 per cent would be destroyed by 2050.
Under the "business as usual" model, 8,690 of today's tree species should be classified as threatened, and under the second model, 5,515 should be, the team reported.
REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES