23 March 2023

Record monthly deforestation in the Amazon is alarming for Lula


In February, the Amazon lost more than 300 km2 of forest. Brazil’s new government promised a turnaround after the woes suffered under President Bolsonaro. Between 2004 and 2012 Brazil recorded its best results in land protection

by Matteo Cavallito


Brazilian Amazon is once again under attack. In February, the region recorded a total deforestation of 322 square kilometers, up 62 percent from the same period last year, the highest monthly figure ever recorded. The loss highlights “the scale of the challenge facing the administration of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, as it tries to undo the environmental destruction wreaked under the far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro,” writes the Guardian.

Now, the attentions is focused on the new government agenda and the commitment announced by the president “Lula, who took office on 1 January this year, has pledged to end illegal logging after deforestation soared to a 15-year high during the Bolsonaro years,” the newspaper says. That’s not going to be easy.

A nightmarish 2022

The year 2022 was the Amazon’s annus horribilis. Within 12 months, said a report by the Brazilian NGO Imazon, the territory lost the equivalent of nearly 3,000 soccer fields a day. Between January and December 2022, in fact, the destruction affected 10,573 square kilometers, bringing the total for the last four years over 35,000.

“There was an unbridled race to deforest, while the gate was open to cattle, land speculation, illegal mining and deforestation in indigenous lands and conservation units,” explained Carlos Souza Jr, Imazon coordinator. “This shows the size of the new government’s challenge.”

The figure recorded in the last month, in line with the trend in recent years, is a disappointment after deforestation appeared to be heading for a reversal in January, recording a 61 percent year-on-year decline.

The Amazon Fund brings optimism

In January, Reuters has reported, the Lula government launched its first anti-deforestation raids in the states of Pará, Roraima and Acre. The operations come alongside an even more important initiative: the reactivation of the government fund designed to finance the protection of the Amazon. The operation stems from the Supreme Court’s decision late last year overturning the controversial measure promoted by former President Bolsonaro that had blocked the fund in 2019, questioning its alleged misuse.

The Amazon Fund, Brazilian newspaper O Globo wrote, is considered a pioneering initiative which is capable of financing more than 100 projects by public entities and nongovernmental organizations worth more than 1 billion reais (nearly $200 million).

According to an audit report prepared by the Office of the Comptroller General of the Union (CGU), as of December 2021 the Fund had about 3.2 billion reais (more than $600 million) in unused funds, which is in addition to $20 billion in outstanding credits.

Durante la presidenza Bolsonaro la deforestazione dell'Amazzonia è aumentata a ritmi crescenti. Immagine: Carbon Brief Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

During Bolsonaro’s presidency, deforestation in the Amazon has increased significantly. Estimates suggest that it will decline between now and the end of the decade. Image: Carbon Brief Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

The hope: restoring the 2004-12 trend

Lula’s victory in the October elections has rekindled the hopes of environmentalists, who are confident following the promises made by the new president. Before the vote, a survey by Carbon Brief estimated that Lula’s success would prevent the destruction of nearly 76,000 km2 of forest by 2030.

The hypothesis, or maybe the hope, is that the government can repeat what it did during the current president’s two previous terms in office. At that time logging recorded an 84 percent decrease. The trend, moreover, reversed thereafter during the presidency of Dilma Rousseff, who was twice a minister (of mines, energy and government action) in the Lula governments.

The current scenario, in any case, appears quite complicated. As the Australian Institute of International Affairs recently observed, in fact, factors such as pressure from the agribusiness lobby, the strength of criminal organizations, the weakening of oversight institutions experienced during the Bolsonaro presidency, and the economic crisis, “pose great challenges” to the president’s environmental agenda over the next, crucial, four years.