Brazil’s Amazon rainforest was deforested at a record rate in the first half of 2022, according to the country’s Institute for Space Research (INPE).
Data from INPE satellites shows that 3,750 square kilometers (1,448 square miles) of the world’s largest rainforest was lost in Brazil between January 1 and June 24, the largest area since 2016, when the institute began this type of monitoring.
INPE satellites have been making new monthly records of deforestation since the start of the year, and also set a record 2,562 fires in the country’s Amazon region last month.
May and June generally mark the beginning of significant annual burning and deforestation in the Amazon, due to the dry season.
In May, the National Institute for Scientific Research (INPE) detected 2,287 fires in the rainforest, the highest number for the month since 2004.
Destruction of the world’s largest rainforest has escalated since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019 and has weakened environmental protection, arguing that it hinders economic development that could reduce poverty in the Amazon.
Although the president has issued several executive orders and laws to protect the rainforest, he has simultaneously cut funding for government-run environmental protection and monitoring programs, and pushed to open indigenous lands to commercial farming and mining.
In October 2021, a group of climate lawyers urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Bolsonaro over his alleged attacks on the Amazon, which they said amounted to “crimes against humanity”.
But the Brazilian president has opposed international critics who are calling for better protection of the rainforest.
At the beginning of May, Bolsonaro criticized Leonardo DiCaprio, saying it was best for the actor to “keep his mouth shut” after he spoke about the ecological importance of the Amazon.
Some scholars predict that deforestation will continue to rise before the Brazilian presidential elections in October, as it has before the last three elections.
Environmental enforcement usually weakens in election years, and criminals may rush to clear forests before a new government takes office, according to Carlos Souza Jr., a researcher with a Brazilian research organization, Amazon.