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Amazon deforestation in Brazil hits its worst level in 15 years

An aerial view shows a deforested area of Amazonia rainforest in Labrea, Amazonas state, Brazil, in September.
Mauro Pimentel
AFP via Getty Images
An aerial view shows a deforested area of Amazonia rainforest in Labrea, Amazonas state, Brazil, in September.

Brazil's Amazon rainforest saw its highest annual rate of deforestation in over 15 years, the latest data shows, after a 22% climb from the previous year.

The country's space research agency monitoring system showed that the region lost over 5,100 square miles of rainforest — comparable to about the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut — between August 2020 to July 2021, according to data published on Thursday. That's the worst annual loss since 2006, when the Brazilian Amazon shed more than 8,800 square miles.

Until President Jair Bolsonaro took office, the Brazilian Amazon hadn't recorded an annual loss above 3,000 square miles of deforestation in over a decade. Bolsonaro, who has chipped away at Brazil's environmental protections and minimized rainforest shrinkage since becoming president in 2019, has been under international pressure to reverse course.

About 1 million Indigenous people, and 3 million species of plants and animals, live in the Amazon, according to the environmental advocacy group Greenpeace.

Although Bolsonaro did not attend this month's United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, his country joined other nations in agreeing to end illegal deforestation, in addition to promising to cut methane emissions.

The report released this week, from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research's PRODES (Program for Calculating Deforestation in Amazonia) is dated Oct. 27 — four days before the start of the Glasgow summit.

"This is the real Brazil that the Bolsonaro government tries to hide with fantastical speeches and actions of greenwashing abroad," Mauricio Voivodic, the executive director for the World Wildlife Fund in Brazil, told the Associated Press in a statement after the PRODES report published. "The reality shows that the Bolsonaro government accelerated the path of Amazon destruction."

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