Brazil's forests

By Rhett A. Butler [Last update August 14, 2020]

Brazil holds about one-third of the world's remaining primary tropical rainforests, including about 60% the Amazon rainforest. Terrestrially speaking, it is also the most biodiverse country on Earth, with more than 34,000 described species of plants, 1,813 species of birds, 1,022 amphibians, 648 mammals, and 814 reptiles.

About 80% of Brazil's tropical forest cover is found in the Amazon Basin, a mosaic of ecosystems and vegetation types including rainforests (the vast majority), seasonal forests, deciduous forests, flooded forests, and savannas, including the woody cerrado. This region has experienced an exceptional extent of forest loss over the past two generations—an area exceeding 760,000 square kilometers, or about 19 percent of its total surface area of 4 million square kilometers, has been cleared in the Amazon since 1970, when only 2.4 percent of the Amazon's forests had been lost. The increase in Amazon deforestation in the early 1970s coincided with the construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway, which opened large forest areas to development by settlers and commercial interests. In more recent years, growing populations in the Amazon region, combined with increased viability of agricultural operations, have caused a further rise in deforestation rates.

Natural forest in the Brazilian Amazon (Amazonia) by year

This data excludes extensive areas degraded by fires and selective logging, nor forest regrowth, which by one Brazilian government estimate occurs on about 20% of deforested areas. The area of Amazon forest degraded each year in Brazil is thought to be roughly equivalent to the amount of forest cleared. Forest degradation is significant because degraded forests are more likely to be cleared in the future. Degraded forest is also more susceptible to fires.

Why is the Amazon rainforest disappearing?

Historically the majority of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was the product of subsistence farmers, but in recent decades this has changed, with a greater proportion of forest clearing driven by large landowners and corporations. The majority of deforestation in the region can be attributed to land clearing for pasture by commercial and speculative interests.

In the early phase of this transition, Brazilian deforestation was strongly correlated to the economic health of the country: the decline in deforestation from 1988-1991 nicely matched the economic slowdown during the same period, while the rocketing rate of deforestation from 1993-1998 paralleled Brazil's period of rapid economic growth. During lean times, ranchers and developers do not have the cash to expand their pasturelands and operations, while the government lacks the budget flexibility to underwrite highways and colonization programs and grant tax breaks and subsidies to agribusiness, logging, and mining interests.

But this dynamic shifted in the mid-2000s, when the link between deforestation and the broader Brazilian economy began to wane. Between 2004 and 2012 the annual rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell 80% to the lowest levels recorded since annual record keeping began in the late 1980s. This decline occurred at the same time that Brazil's economy expanded 40 percent and agricultural output surged.

Tree cover loss and primary forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon according to analysis of satellite data by Hansen et al 2020
Comparison of data on deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, 2001-2019, between official Brazilian government data and Hansen et al 2020.

Why did Amazon deforestation decline?

There are several reasons commonly cited for the decline in Brazil's deforestation rate between 2004 and 2012.

One of the most important active measures was the launch of the Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon (PPCDAm) in 2004. PPCDAm aimed to reduce deforestation rates continuously and facilitate conditions that support a transition towards a sustainable economic development model in the region. PPCDAm had three main components: land tenure and spatial planning, environmental monitoring and control, and supporting sustainable production.

These components resulted in increased enforcement of environmental laws; improved forest monitoring by satellite, which enabled law enforcement to take action; new incentives for utilizing already deforested lands; and expanded protected areas and indigenous reserves. A byproduct of PPCDAm was heightened sensitivity to environmental criticism among private sector companies and emerging awareness of the values of ecosystem services afforded by the Amazon.

Other factors also played a part in the decline in deforestation, including macroeconomic trends like a stronger Brazilian currency, which reduced the profitability of export-driven agriculture; prioritization of non-rainforest areas like the adjacent cerrado ecosystem for agribusiness expansion; and increased diversification in the Brazilian economy as a whole.

Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Why has progress in reducing Amazon deforestation stalled?

Progress in reducing deforestation stalled after 2012 and forest loss has been trending upward since. There is debate over why this is the case, but some researchers argue that Brazil achieved about as much as it could through law enforcement and other punitive measures ("the stick" in the proverbial "the carrot and stick" approach). Reducing deforestation further requires sufficient economic incentives ("the carrot") to maintain forests as healthy and productive ecosystems. Put another way, standing forest needs to be made more valuable than clearing it for pasture or crops.

By that line of thought, the political impetus for reducing deforestation began to wane as ranchers, farmers, investors, and land speculators grew tried of fines, threats of legal action, and prohibitions against clearing. Political movements like the ruralistas pushed harder for relation of environmental laws and amnesty for past transgressions. These interests gained momentum when the Temer administration came to power in 2016 and won more clout with the election of Jair Bolsonaro in late 2018. Bolsonaro, who campaigned on the promise to open the Amazon to extractive industries and agribusiness while disparaging environmentalists and indigenous peoples, immediately set about dismantling protections for the Amazon when he took office in January 2019. Deforestation increased sharply thereafter.

Causes of deforestation in the Amazon

In evaluating deforestation in the Amazon, it is important to understand both direct and indirect drivers of forest loss.

Direct drivers of deforestation including conversion of forests for pasture, farmland, and plantations, as well as surface mining, dams that inundate forested areas, and intense fires.

Indirect drivers of deforestation include more subtle factors, like insecure land tenure, corruption, poor law enforcement, infrastructure projects, policies that favor conversion over conservation, and selective logging that create conditions or enable activities that facilitate forest clearing.

Pie chart showing drivers of deforestation in the Amazon
Causes of deforestation in the Amazon, 2001-2013 Share of direct deforestation
Cattle ranching63%
Small-scale agriculture
Includes both subsistence and commercial
12%
Fires
Sub-canopy fires often result in degradation, not deforestation
9%
Agriculture
Large-scale industrial agriculture like soy and plantations
8%
Logging
Selective logging commonly results in degradation, not deforestation
6%
Other
Mining, urbanization, road construction, dams, etc.
2%

 

Cattle ranching

Conversion of rainforest for cattle pasture is the single largest driver of deforestation in Brazil. Clearing forest for pasture is the cheapest and easiest way to establish an informal claim to land, which can then be sold on to other parties at a profit. In some parts of the Brazilian Amazon, cleared rainforest land can be worth more than eight times that of land with standing forest. According, cattle ranching is often viewed as a way to speculate on appreciating land prices.

However since 2000, cattle ranching in the Amazon has become increasingly industrialized, meaning that more ranchers are producing cattle to sell commercially. Most of the beef ends up in the domestic market, but secondary products like hides and leather are often exported.

These exports left Brazilian cattle ranchers exposed in the late 2000s when Greenpeace launched a high profile campaign against companies that were sourcing leather and other products from major Brazilian cattle processors. That campaign led major companies to demand zero deforestation cattle. Combined with a crackdown by public prosecutors, the Brazilian cattle industry started to shift substantially toward less damaging practices in late 2009 by signing the "Cattle Agreement", which barred the sourcing of cattle from illegally deforested areas.

However by the mid-2010s investigations revealed that some major cattle producers were circumventing the safeguards established under the Cattle Agreement by laundering cattle through third party ranches. Unlike soy (see below), cattle are highly mobile, making it easy for ranchers to shift livestock clandestinely.

Deforestation for soy in the Brazilian Amazon. The isolated tree is a Brazil nut. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Soy

The model for the Brazilian cattle industry to move toward zero deforestation came from the country's soy industry, which underwent a similar transformation three years earlier. That shift was also initiative by a Greenpeace campaign, which targeted the soy-based chicken feed used by McDonald's in Europe. Within months of that campaign's launch, the largest soy crushers and traders in the Amazon had established a moratorium on buying soy produced via deforestation in the Amazon.

Timber

Logging in the Brazilian Amazon remains plagued by poor management, destructive practices, and outright fraud. Vast areas of rainforest are logged -- legally and illegally -- each year. According to government sources and NGOs, the vast majority of logging in the Brazilian Amazon is illegal.

Palm oil

At present, Amazon palm oil is not a major driver of deforestation in Brazil. While there are concerns that it could eventually exacerbate deforestation, there is also a chance that it could replace degraded cattle pasture, boosting economic productivity at a low environmental cost.

Dams, roads, and other infrastructure projects

Brazil's infrastructure spree from the late-2000s to mid-2010s was interrupted by the corruption scandals of the mid-2010s. Many of the scores of dams being built across the Amazon basin were put on hold following the Lava Jato scandal that ensnared senior politicians in several countries and executives at the infrastructure giant Odebrecht. Yet the scandals also helped usher in the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, which reinvigorated the push to build roads, dams, and mines in the Amazon.

Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Conservation in Brazil

While Brazil may be better known for losing its forests, during the 2000s it easily led the world in establishing new protected areas. Those gains were consolidated in 2014, when donors established a trust fund that will underwrite the country's protected areas system through 2039.

Beyond strict protected areas, more than a fifth of the Brazilian Amazon lies within indigenous reservations, which research has shown reduce deforestation even more effectively than national parks. Overall nearly half the Brazilian Amazon is under some form of protection.

Brazil's other forests

While the Amazon rainforest is Brazil's most famous forest, the country also has other types of forest.

The Mata Atlântica or Atlantic Forest is a drier tropical forest that lies along the coast and inland areas to the south of the Amazon. It has been greatly reduced by conversion to agriculture -- especially sugar cane and cattle pasture -- and urbanization. The Mata Atlântica is arguably Brazil's most threatened forest.

Forest loss in Brazil's Mata Atlantica according to National Space Research Institute, INPE

The Pantanal is an inland wetland that borders Paraguay and Bolivia and covers an area of 154,884 square kilometers. It includes a mosaic of forests and flooded grasslands.

The cerrado biome is a tropical grassland that covers 1.9 square kilometers, or approximately 22 percent of the country. It is being rapidly destroyed for agriculture.

The chaco biome is a dry forest ecosystem that extends into Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina.

Brazil's tropical forests

Primary forest extentTree cover extent
StateDominant forest biome20012020% losss20012020% losss
AcreAmazon13,505,69012,583,4186.8%14312070134293788.1%
AlagoasAtlantic forest35,53734,9331.7%57551851079211.4%
AmapáAmazon10,934,64510,792,2681.3%12172480121887352.5%
AmazonasAmazon143,485,183141,217,4831.6%1505680051482690452.0%
BahiaAtlantic forest1,297,7021,187,3478.5%187766221518773716.5%
CearáAtlantic forest74,39572,5012.5%2974477280712710.0%
Espírito SantoAtlantic forest128,492124,4063.2%1813455167559918.8%
GoiásAtlantic forest / Cerrado388,506328,32915.5%7736542680816313.3%
MaranhãoAmazon3,185,7322,483,15322.1%210154431639155623.0%
Mato GrossoAmazon / Cerrado / Chaco39,009,64531,696,95318.7%563962284616815018.7%
Mato Grosso do SulAtlantic forest / Cerrado1,489,0951,356,7178.9%10191243876195312.6%
Minas GeraisAtlantic forest / Cerrado268,244258,6883.6%183574221745008214.0%
ParáAmazon92,225,89683,576,9739.4%1079637179701346412.4%
ParaíbaAtlantic forest23,76423,5121.1%11214826632639.6%
ParanáAtlantic forest1,044,8811,020,2532.4%7947474734017014.1%
PernambucoAtlantic forest42,72741,0014.0%1563136125875910.7%
PiauíCaatinga141,286139,7851.1%11538381930006310.3%
Rio de JaneiroAtlantic forest587,724581,3631.1%180539817379223.8%
Rio Grande do NorteAtlantic forest7,3217,2870.5%90943249110611.0%
Rio Grande do SulAtlantic forest / Cerrado24,16624,1460.1%763611273936658.1%
RondôniaAmazon15,649,57812,470,56320.3%184855791490877921.7%
RoraimaAmazon15,425,75914,683,7384.8%17889964170758365.7%
Santa CatarinaAtlantic forest1,205,5901,176,0142.5%6354636603158012.2%
São PauloAtlantic forest1,837,3211,817,0951.1%6560955646900412.1%
SergipeAtlantic forest17,94016,6707.1%54359139572221.5%
TocantinsAmazon / Cerrado1,194,996995,67116.7%11162164845997216.1%

 

Recent news on Brazil's tropical forests

‘They will die’: Fears for the last Piripkura as Amazon invasion ramps up
- Overflight images show that outsiders have not just invaded the Piripkura Indigenous Territory in the Brazilian Amazon, but are also expanding their illegal cattle ranches in what’s supposed to be the protected land of one of the world’s most vulnerable uncontacted Indigenous groups.
- Deforestation inside the territory surged nearly a hundredfold in the 12 months since August 2020, which Indigenous rights activists attribute to anticipation among would-be invaders that a restriction ordinance banning outsiders won’t be renewed as it has every two years since 2008.
- The invaders are closing in on the parts of the territory inhabited by Pakyî and Tamandua, the last two known Piripkura individuals living in the territory; there may be another 13 there who have chosen to remain uncontacted.
- The Piripkura suffered from at least two massacres since their first contact with outsiders in the 1980s, and now face the risk of extermination again, activists warn.

In Brazil, an agribusiness haven’s green pivot leaves many skeptical
- The Amacro project was conceived in early 2020 as an agribusiness hub in a heavily deforested part of the Brazilian Amazon, but a year later is being touted as a hub for sustainable business.
- Now renamed the Abunã-Madeira Sustainable Development Area (ZDS), it stretches across 32 municipalities in the states of Amazonas, Acre and Rondônia, which last year accounted for nearly a quarter of the total deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
- The ZDS project aims to attract investments into a wide range of sectors, from agroforestry and fish farming, to tourism and logistics, as well as the agribusiness, while promising to avoid deforestation through technology to help boost agricultural productivity.
- Despite these green claims, prosecutors and nonprofit researchers say the prospect of new investment is already boosting land grabbing and deforestation in the area, and argue the best way to halt deforestation is to create protected areas — something that’s not included in the ZDS project.

With La Niña conditions back, is it good news for tropical forests?
- La Niña conditions have developed across the Pacific Ocean for the second year in a row, according to forecasters at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
- A phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation ocean-atmosphere cycle, La Niña heralds broadly cooler and wetter conditions across the tropics, with above-average rainfall predicted for important tropical rainforests in Southeast Asia and South America.
- Although the current conditions emerge toward the end of the fire season in the Amazon and Indonesia, experts say these biomes will benefit from wet conditions conducive to forest and peatland growth and recovery.
- Studies indicate that climate change will increase the frequency and severity of La Niña and El Niño events, which will occur against the backdrop of a warmer world, with inevitable implications for natural ecosystems and livelihoods.

Amazon deforestation unexpectedly surges 22% to highest level since 2006
- Deforestation in Earth’s largest rainforest surged 22% to the highest level since 2006, according to official data released today by the Brazilian government.
- Preliminary analysis of satellite data by Brazil’s national space research institute INPE shows that 13,235 square kilometers (5,110 square miles) of rainforest was cleared in the Brazilian Amazon between August 1, 2020 and July 31, 2021.
- The sharp increase came as a surprise: Data from INPE’s near-real-time deforestation alert system had set expectations for a modest year-over-year decline in the rate of forest destruction.
- Deforestation has been on an upward trend in the Brazilian Amazon since 2012.

The Amazon has highest October forest loss since at least 2007
- On Friday Brazil reported the highest level of deforestation for any October dating back to 2007.
- According to data from Brazil’s national space research institute INPE, 877 square kilometers (339 square miles) of rainforest were destroyed in the Brazilian Amazon, a 5% increase over October 2020.
- It marks the second straight month where the rate of forest clearing has risen, but on a trailing-twelve-month basis, deforestation stands 5% lower than the same time last year.
- Brazil is expected to release its preliminary deforestation for the year ended July 31, 2021 later this month. It will likely show about a 10% decline relative to 2020.

Top Brazil gold exporter leaves a trail of criminal probes and illegal mines
- Brazilian gold exporter BP Trading accounted for 10% of the country’s exports of the precious metal in 2019 and 2020, having purchased it from companies prosecuted for buying illegal gold.
- Most of the illegal mines are concentrated in Indigenous territories, where they deforest the land, pollute the rivers, and inflict violence on Indigenous communities.
- The company saw strong growth in recent years, with revenues of $256 million in 2019, more than double what it made in 2018.
- Illegal mining generates $600,000 to $800,000 a year in Brazil, according to Ministry of Mines and Energy estimates.

Indigenous agents fight deforestation with drones and AI in Brazilian Amazon
- The rate of deforestation has increased in recent years in the Brazilian state of Acre, which is now in the top five for deforestation risk, according to a forecast by an artificial intelligence tool developed by Microsoft and Brazilian nonprofit Imazon.
- In a study developed especially for Mongabay, the AI tool shows that Acre has 878 square kilometers (339 square miles) of land that is at high or very high risk of deforestation, including inside, 20 conservation units and 29 Indigenous territories.
- Efforts to combat deforestation include training of Indigenous people to monitor their own territories against agriculture-driven invasions.
- One Indigenous agroforestry agent told Mongabay that he and his peers rely on technology such as drones and GPS to monitor forest fires, guard against poaching, and thwart illegal invasions.

Indigenous lands under siege as buffalo frenzy grips the Amazon
- Deforestation is rising in Autazes, a municipality in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, according to satellite data and local sources.
- Indigenous leaders say the clearing is now encroaching on the 18 Indigenous reserves that lie scattered across Autazes, some of which are still awaiting full demarcation.
- Most of the razed lots are being turned into grazing pastures for herds of domestic water buffalos, which thrive in the floodplains that characterize the region.
- Indigenous community members say that in addition to clearing forest for pasture, buffalo farming is polluting their water sources and roaming buffalos are invading communities’ subsistence farms.

COP-26: Amazonia’s Indigenous peoples are vital to fighting global warming (commentary)
- The United Nations Climate Change summit, the 26th conference of the parties (COP-26), held in Glasgow Scotland through November 12, is important both for the future of the global climate and for Amazonian Indigenous peoples.
- Uncontrolled climate change threatens the Amazon forest on which Indigenous peoples depend, and Indigenous peoples in turn have an important role as guardians of the forest.
- Decisions on how international funds intended to avoid greenhouse gas emissions are used represent both opportunities and risks for the climate, for the forest, and for Indigenous peoples.
- Indigenous voices need to be heard at COP-26, as empowered stakeholders threatened by climate change, and for the invaluable traditional wisdom these peoples can contribute to global warming solutions. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

BR-319 highway hearings: An attack on Brazil’s interests and Amazonia’s future (commentary)
- Brazil’s proposed reconstruction of the BR-319, a highway connecting Manaus (in central Amazonia) with the “arc of deforestation” in southern Amazonia, would bring deforesters to vast areas of what remains of the Amazon forest.
- The forest areas in western Amazonia that would be opened by planned roads connecting to the BR-319 are vital to maintaining rainfall that supplies water to São Paulo and other major urban and agricultural areas outside the Amazon region.
- Holding public hearings allows a “box to be checked” in the licensing process — a key step in obtaining official approval for the highway project. The hearing was held despite impacted Indigenous peoples not having been consulted, among other irregularities.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Bolsonaro evades genocide blame amid Indigenous deaths by invaders, COVID-19
- A Senate inquiry has opted not to call for genocide charges against President Jair Bolsonaro over his failure to sufficiently protect Brazil’s Indigenous population from the COVID-19 pandemic and the escalating illegal invasions of their reserves.
- The final report nevertheless accuses Bolsonaro of crimes against humanity, saying he took advantage of the pandemic to harm traditional communities.
- The Senate’s backtrack on the genocide call comes a week after two Indigenous children in the Yanomami reserve were killed in an accident involving illegal mining machinery.
- The Yanomami, like other Indigenous reserves across Brazil, has faced a rising influx of invaders under Bolsonaro’s watch, which prosecutors attribute in part to the president’s anti-Indigenous rhetoric and support for illegal mining inside these territories.

Math campus multiplies threats to Rio de Janeiro’s dwindling Atlantic Forest
- A plan to create a new mathematics campus with student accommodation in Rio de Janeiro is being challenged by residents as it calls for the removal of 255 trees in a patch of the already severely diminished Atlantic Forest.
- A study shows the construction site sits on a slope that poses a high geological risk, leaving residents worried about flooding and landslides in an area already affected by intense rainfall.
- Experts say there are irregularities in the licensing granted to the construction, and environmental laws are not being respected.
- The Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (IMPA), which is building the new campus, says all its licenses are in order, that it will reforest the area, and that the educational and social benefits will be worth it.

Fire and forest loss ignite concern for Brazilian Amazon’s jaguars
- More than 1,400 jaguars died or were displaced in the Brazilian Amazon due to deforestation and fires over a recent three-year period, according to a recent study.
- The authors recommend “real-time satellite monitoring” of the Brazilian Amazon jaguar population to enable experts to monitor jaguar displacement due to habitat loss and help them to better target conservation efforts on the ground and to prioritize areas for enforcement action.
- Spatial monitoring will also enable identification of wildlife corridors to keep jaguar populations connected to ensure their long-term survival.

Brazil reports increase in Amazon logging
- Selective forest cutting in the Amazon is on the rise, according to data released on Friday by the Brazilian government.
- INPE reported a 77% increase in the rate of cutting that’s typically associated with logging, from 646 square kilometers in September 2020 to 1,145 square kilometers last month. Selective cutting in the region currently stands at the highest level in at least five years.
- The rise in logging is significant because logged areas in the Amazon are more likely to be eventually deforested. Selectively logged forests also face higher fire risk due to drier conditions relative to intact rainforests.

Facebook to block illegal sales of protected Amazon rainforest lands
- On Friday, Facebook announced it would crack down on the illegal sales of protected Amazon rainforest land via its platform, according to a blog post by the company.
- The move comes after a BBC investigation found that the company’s Marketplace product was being used to broker sales of protected lands, including Indigenous territories and national forest reserves.
- Experts raised doubts about the effectiveness of Facebook’s approach since the social media company doesn’t require users to specify the coordinates of the land they are selling.
- “If they don’t make it mandatory for sellers to provide the location of the area on sale, any attempt at blocking them will be flawed,” Brenda Brito, a Brazilian lawyer and scientist told BBC News. “They may have the best database in the world, but if they don’t have some geo-location reference, it won’t work.”

Brazil leads Amazon in forest loss this year, Indigenous and protected areas hold out
- Satellite imagery brings us a first look at this year’s deforestation hotspots, areas where forest cover was lost in high densities across the Amazon, amounting to more than 860,000 hectares (2.1 million acres).
- The majority of deforestation (76%) occurred in Brazil and was clustered around roads, according to a recent report from Amazon Conservation’s Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP); many of the areas deforested this year in Brazil have also burned.
- In Colombia, deforestation hotspots this year were in and around numerous protected areas, including Tinigua and Chiribiquete national parks, as well as Indigenous reserves, particularly Yari-Yaguara II and Nukak Maku; in Peru, rice farming and a new Mennonite colony drove recent deforestation.
- Of primary forests loss across the western Amazon between 2017 and 2020, three-quarters were outside protected areas and Indigenous territories, highlighting the importance of these key land use designations for safeguarding the remaining Amazon rainforest.

New transport infrastructure is opening the Amazon to global commerce
- Tim Killeen provides an update on the state of the Amazon in his new book “A Perfect Storm in the Amazon Wilderness – Success and Failure in the Fight to save an Ecosystem of Critical Importance to the Planet.”
- The book provides an overview of the topics most relevant to the conservation of the Amazon’s biodiversity, ecosystem services and Indigenous cultures, as well as a description of the conventional and sustainable development models vying for space within the regional economy.
- Mongabay will publish excerpts from the Killeen’s book, which will be released by The White Horse Press in serial format over the course of the next year. In this second installment, we provide a section from Chapter Two: “Global Competition Drives Bulk Transport Systems”.
- This post is an except from a book. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Countering Bolsonaro’s UN speech, Greenpeace releases Amazon deforestation photos
- Hours after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro painted a rosy picture of his administration’s environmental record during a United Nations speech, Greenpeace and other environmental groups released a set of photos showing continued deforestation and fires in Earth’s largest rainforest.
- Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro cited a 32 percent reduction in deforestation in the month of August relative to a year ago, the country’s near decade-old Forest Code, and lands set aside as Indigenous territories — which he’s fought to undermine and dismantle — as evidence of Brazil’s contributions toward mitigating climate change.
- But activists pushed back on Bolsonaro’s statement, noting rising deforestation in the Amazon and his administration’s rollback of environmental laws and law enforcement, while publishing dramatic images captured in two Amazon states between September 14 and 17.
- Brazil does have some of the strongest forest protection laws on the books among major tropical forest nations, but enforcement has been lax, especially under Bolsonaro, when the deforestation rate in the Amazon has climbed to the highest level since 2008. Bolsonaro’s reference to one month of deforestation data doesn’t reflect the trend of rising deforestation that he’s presided over since taking office in January 2019.

Fires in the Amazon have already impacted 90% of plant and animal species
- New study addresses the effects of fires on biodiversity loss in the world’s largest forest during the last two decades.
- Researchers measured the impacts on the habitats of 14,000 species of plants and animals, finding that 93 to 95% suffered some consequence of the fires.
- Primates were the most affected, as they depend on trees for movement, food and shelter. Rare and endemic species with restricted habitats suffered the strongest impacts.
- The study assessed two decades of fires between 2001 and 2019 and confirmed the impact of environmental policies on deforestation cycles in the Amazon; law enforcement was concluded to have direct impact on the extent and volume of fires.

Illegal logging reaches Amazon’s untouched core, ‘terrifying’ research shows
- Satellite imagery shows that logging activity is spreading from peripheral areas of the Amazon toward the rainforest’s core, according to groundbreaking research.
- The satellite-based mapping of seven of Brazil’s nine Amazonian states showed a “terrifying” pattern of logging advance that cleared an area three times the size of the city of São Paulo between August 2019 and July 2020 alone.
- At the state level, lack of transparency in logging data makes it impossible to calculate how much of the timber production is illegal, experts say.
- Evidence of cutting in Indigenous reserves and conservation units — where logging is prohibited — make clear that illegal logging accounts for much of the activity, according to the report.