12 July 2023

It’s the Lula effect? Amazon deforestation falls by 34% in six months


The numbers, which have not been verified by an independent authority, would mark a turnaround for the Amazon after a particularly bad 2022. Fines and bans are increasing. But fires are also on the rise, having never been so extensive since 2007

by Matteo Cavallito


Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is slowing down, falling by about a third year-on-year. This was announced by the government, which released the results of Deter, the satellite survey system of INPE, the National Institute for Space Research. On balance, deforestation would have affected approximately 2,650 km2 compared to almost 4,000 in the first half of 2022. However, the figures released by the authorities, reports the British broadcaster BBC, have not been independently verified.

From the government’s point of view, of course, the numbers take on implicit political value, highlighting a reversal of the trends that emerged during Jair Bolsonaro‘s presidency. ‘The 34 per cent drop recorded between January and June this year in the Amazon comes after a 54 per cent increase recorded from August to December 2022 under the previous government,’ an official statement said.

A nightmarish 2022 for the Amazon

The year 2022 was the Amazon’s annus horribilis. In 12 months, the Brazilian NGO Imazon reported, the regipn lost the equivalent of almost 3,000 football pitches a day. Between January and December 2022, the destruction affected 10,573 square kilometres, bringing the total over the last four years to over 35,000.

During the first months of 2023, contradictory data were recorded. In January, deforestation fallen by 61 per cent year-on-year. In February, the total deforestation of the Amazon amounted to 322 square kilometres, 62% more than in the same period the previous year, the highest monthly figure ever recorded.

A reversal of the trend

Blamed for years for accelerating the phenomenon by easing regulations and controls, Bolsonaro, elected at the end of 2018, was defeated in the October 2022 elections by leftist candidate Lula da Silva, former head of state from 2003 to 2011. This year, the government recalls, the Brazilian Institute of Renewable and Environmental Natural Resources (IBAMA) – an agency of the Ministry of the Environment – has intensified controls and sanctions.

Fines for offences against natural resources, in particular, are reported to have increased by 166% compared to the average of the January-June period in the last four years. In addition, “embargoes – i.e. bans on the use of illegally logged areas – increased by 111% and seizures rose by 115%.” Finally, “the reactivation of remote embargoes, which were paralysed under the previous government, has already led to the prohibition of the use of 206,000 hectares of illegally deforested areas”.

Secondo le stime di Deter, il sistema di rilevazione satellitare dell’Istituto nazionale di ricerche spaziali brasiliano, tra gennaio e giugno di quest’anno la deforestazione in Amazzonia è diminuita del 33,6% nel confronto con il primo semestre 2022. Immagine: Ministério do Meio Ambiente e Mudança do Clima, luglio 2023

According to estimates by Deter, the satellite tracking system of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, deforestation in the Amazon decreased by 33.6 per cent between January and June this year compared to the first half of 2022. Image: Ministério do Meio Ambiente e Mudança do Clima, July 2023

But fires are on the rise

Earlier this year, Lula decreed the recognition of six new native community reserves, banning mining and restricting commercial agriculture. “Indigenous leaders welcomed the move,” the BBC reports, “but stressed that more areas needed protection”. In the meantime, however, the good news in recent days is matched by worrying data on the spread of the flames.

In June alone, satellite monitoring detected 3,075 fires in the Amazon, the highest number since 2007. “Many of the blazes – releasing vast amounts of carbon emissions – have been linked to the clearing of previously deforested areas,” the British broadcaster concluded.