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Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell by 68% in April - but will it continue?

An illegal mining camp in Yanomami Indigenous territory, Brazil, 11 February 2023.
An illegal mining camp in Yanomami Indigenous territory, Brazil, 11 February 2023. Copyright AP Photo/Edmar Barros, File
Copyright AP Photo/Edmar Barros, File
By Angela Symons
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Amazon deforestation fell by 68% in Brazil last month - but ‘megaprojects’ threaten progress.

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Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell by 68 per cent last month compared to April 2022.

This is the first significant drop since President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took office at the start of this year.

Lula, as the left-leaning President is known, campaigned on transforming Brazil into a ‘green superpower’. One of his promises was to combat illegal deforestation, which rose to a 15-year high under former right wing President Jair Bolsonaro.

Despite this, deforestation rose by 14 per cent in March compared to the previous year, according to data from Inpe (the National Space Research Institute) collected from Deter (the Deforestation Detection System in Real Time). February 2023, meanwhile, saw record-high deforestation and a 62 per cent hike on the previous year.

However, April brought a brighter outlook with a sharp drop in deforestation.

How much of the Brazilian Amazon has been lost to deforestation in 2023?

In April, 328.71 kilometres-squared of Amazonian rainforest was lost in Brazil, according to Inpe. In the same month last year, over 1,026 sq km of forest was cleared - an area larger than Berlin.

April 2022 was the worst on record for Amazon deforestation, with destruction almost double that of 2021.

This year’s figure is still significant as it is below the historical average of around 466 sq km for the month.

Between January and April this year, 1,173 sq km of Brazilian Amazon has been cleared. Overall, this is a more than 40 per cent drop on the 1,968 sq km cleared in the same period last year.

January 2023 also saw a big drop in deforestation but it is typically lower at this time of year due to heavy rainfall, while cloud cover can potentially distort satellite data.

Will Amazon deforestation continue to fall in 2023?

Deforestation typically shoots up between July and September, meaning it is too early to determine if this downwards trend will continue.

However, President Lula has committed to ending all illegal logging by 2030.

Is President Lula following through on his election promises?

Lula has already made good on various promises to protect Brazil’s environment.

After being sworn in, he restored the authority of the government's environmental protection agency Ibama, which had been diluted by Bolsonaro.

Lula also reactivated the billion-dollar Amazon fund, which seeks to stop deforestation.

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Financed by Norway and Germany, the fund was frozen in 2019 when Bolsonaro dissolved the committee that steered its projects. This month, the UK announced it would contribute almost €93 million to the initiative.

A Bolsonaro measure that encouraged illegal mining on protected Indigenous lands has been revoked, and a military campaign has been launched to eject illegal miners. Some Indigenous territories have been demarcated.

Yet several major infrastructure projects in the Amazon threaten to derail this progress.

These include the major Ferrograo railway project to transport grains, and the restoration of an abandoned highway that runs through protected parts of the rainforest.

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The renewal of a licence for the huge Belo Monte hydroelectric dam and a potential licence for an oil drilling project near the mouth of the Amazon River are also being considered by Ibama.

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