Every minute deforestation of area equal to three football fields and more of the Brazilian Amazon is pushing the biggest rainforest in the world closer to an irrecoverable ‘tipping point’ according to the latest government data.
The Deter B satellite system which started monitoring in 2015 shows that in July, clearance has hit 1,345 sq km so far, setting third high in comparison to the last monthly record.
After a couple of days, July would be the first month in several years to witness the loss of an area of forest bigger than Greater London in Brazil.
The rainforest’s role becomes weak in stabilizing the global climate due to the steady erosion of tree cover. There is also an increased risk of the forest getting degraded into a savannah, and that its carbon-absorbing capacity will sink seriously with repercussion for the rest of the planet, scientists warn.
“It’s very important to keep repeating these concerns. There are a number of tipping points which are not far away,” said Philip Fearnside, a professor at Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research. “We can’t see exactly where they are, but we know they are very close. It means we have to do things right away. Unfortunately, that is not what is happening. There are people denying we even have a problem.”
Ratification of biggest ever trade deal with the European Union may also become complicated for Brazil on the EU legislators’ decision that the South American nation is not keeping its side of the bargain including a commitment to slow deforestation as per the Paris climate agreement.
Bolsonaro thinks that the official numbers from the National Institute for Space Research are not exact and tried to fob them off as lies by criticizing the head of the institute. The president also insisted on screening the numbers by the ministry of science and technology earlier this week, and disclose to him before making it open so that he did not get “caught with his intensions.” In the current scenario, there is also a risk that in future data may get vetted instead of being uploaded online automatically every day.
Bolsonaro got elected with strong backing from agribusiness and mining interests and has acted fast in his first seven months in power to destroy government agencies in charge of forest protection.
He has weakened the environment agency and criticized Ibama, the forest monitoring agency, for imposing fines on illegal loggers and land grabbers. The protections for nature reserves, indigenous territories, and zones of sustainable production by forest peoples also weakened by the government and invited business people to register land counter-claims within those areas instead. Not only has this encouraged invaders clearing the forest to use it for commercial purpose with speculative expectations but also partially for mines, soya fields, and cattle pastures.
The consequences are grave. Thousands of gold miners invaded Yanomami indigenous territory illegally near the border with Venezuela earlier this month. According to the Folha newspaper, illegal loggers burned an Ibama truck in Espigão d’Oeste, Rondônia state on 4 July and have burned bridges in Placas, Pará state last week
The environment minister Ricardo Salles in a speech given to a group of loggers in Rondônia reportedly told them: “The timber industry deserves to be respected … What happens today in Brazil, unfortunately, is the result of years and years and years of a public policy of producing laws, rules, regulations that are not always related to the real world. What we are doing now is precisely bringing the legal part of the real world that happens in every country from north to south.”
During a recent G20 meeting, Bolsonaro confronted the criticism of the German chancellor Angela Merkel saying that she had no right to criticize because Brazil has superior conservation record than Europe. According to Climate Observatory, the claim is dubious as the World Bank data clearly reflects that the share of land given protected status by Germany is bigger than that of Brazil.
Brazil is moving backward rapidly. The deforestation rose 13% to the highest level in a decade last year. This year it is going to be far worse by moving back to the dark days of the early 2000s. Between 2006 and 2012 there was an 80% reduction in the rate of deforestation. However, the successive governments have relaxed protections.
“Unfortunately, it is absurd, but it should not catch anyone by surprise. President Jair Bolsonaro and minister Ricardo Salles are dismantling our socio-environmental policies,” said Carlos Rittl, the executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, an NGO formed by a coalition of environmental groups. The operations to fight environmental crimes reduced 70% between January and April 2019 as Salles had eradicated the responsible department. Moreover, in eight of the nine Ibama regional offices, no leaders have been appointed.
The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) uses data from the more powerful Prodes satellite system, whereas the data from Deter satellite is considered preliminary, though it is a useful guide to the long-term trends. The detailed annual figures are generally released towards the year-end after INPE has completed its data calculation.
Trees are essential to maintain climate stability. Earlier this month, a study showed that planting trees in billions can serve as the “best climate change solution.” However, as per scientists, maintaining existing forests, mainly in the tropics, is far more critical.