Brazil's Amazon deforestation at highest rate in 11 years, country's space agency says

19 November 2019, 10:59 | Updated: 19 November 2019, 15:07

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest rose by almost a third last year, to its highest rate for more than a decade, a report has found.

The 30% increase is at odds with president Jair Bolsonaro's claims that environmentalists exaggerate the pace at which it is being lost.

Between August 2018 and July 2019, 3,769 square miles (9,762 square km) of forest disappeared, Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said.

The denuded area, roughly the size of the US states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, is the largest recorded since 2008.

The preliminary report is the clearest evidence so far that deforestation in the Amazon is on the rise.

Right-wing populist Mr Bolsonaro, who took office in January and argues conservation policies hinder economic development, has rolled back measures to limit deforestation and is accused of reducing efforts to fight illegal logging, mining and ranching.

The Amazon is the world's largest tropical rainforest and is considered key to the fight against climate change because of the vast amounts of carbon dioxide it absorbs.

Risks to the forest drew global concern in August when fires raged through the Amazon, drawing sharp criticism from France's President Emmanuel Macron.

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Mr Bolsonaro bit back, attacking the French president's "lamentable colonialist stance" and insisting his country did not have the resources to extinguish the blazes, which numbered around 80,00 at their peak, the INPE estimated.

Environment minister Ricardo Salles blamed the increase in deforestation on illegal logging, mining and land grabbing and said a new strategy was needed to combat them.

The Bolsonaro administration has spent a lot of energy attacking data on deforestation.

In August, the head of the space research institute, Ricardo Galvão, was fired shortly after Bolsonaro accused his agency of manipulating deforestation data to make the government look bad.

The president later suggested, without citing evidence, that non-governmental groups could be setting some of the fires in the Amazon to draw attention to his administration.

The annual data published by the space research agency Monday confirms the institute's earlier reports that deforestation was on the rise.

The latest data is actually 42% higher than what was previously reported.