Deforestation in the Amazon is shooting up,

Development is encroaching on the forest in the state of Para in Brazil. Some 7500 square kilometers of forest were felled nationwide in 2018.  Gallo Images/Orbital Horizon/Copernicus Sentinel Data 2018/GETTY IMAGES

but Brazil’s president calls the data ‘a lie’

By Herton Escobar - 28. 

Deforestation is shooting up again in the Brazilian Amazon, according to satellite monitoring data. But Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, whom many blame for the uptick, has disputed the trend and attacked the credibility of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which produced the data. Bolsonaro called the numbers “a lie” during a 19 July breakfast talk with journalists, and suggested INPE Director Ricardo Galvão was “at the service of some [nongovernmental organization].” “With all the devastation you accuse us of doing and having done in the past, the Amazon would be extinguished already,” he said.

His comments triggered a fierce backlash from the scientific community, which feels increasingly under siege from the Bolsonaro administration. “Satellites are not responsible for deforestation—they only objectively record what happens,” says a manifest by the Coalition for Science and Society, a recently formed group of scientists concerned about political developments in Brazil. “Scientific facts will prevail, whether or not people believe in them.” Galvão called Bolsonaro a “coward” for voicing unfounded accusations in public. “I hope he calls me to Brasília to explain the data, and that he has the courage to repeat [what he said] face to face,” Galvão said in an interview with O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper.

Bolsonaro—who said Galvão could meet with a Cabinet minister instead—has since toned down his criticism but insists INPE should consult with government officials before releasing deforestation data in the future because it is hurting Brazil’s image abroad. (INPE’s official policy is to make all of its data public.) Many prominent scientists and environmentalists blame the increase in land clearing on Bolsonaro’s aggressive prodevelopment statements and policies, including the promotion of farming and mining on protected land.

INPE, a public research institute based in São José dos Campos, has been tracking deforestation in the Amazon through satellite images since the 1970s. “Those data have long been used as a reliable barometer of what’s happening in the Brazilian Amazon,” says Bill Laurance, director of the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia. One of INPE’s monitoring systems, called the Real-Time Deforestation Detection System (DETER), generates an alert every time a new clearing larger than 3 hectares is detected in the forest canopy. It is designed to function as an alarm system and guide law enforcement on the ground, but it also yields rough tallies of new deforestation that are released weekly. The most recent DETER data suggest more than 4200 square kilometers of forest were chopped out of the Brazilian Amazon between 1 January, when Bolsonaro took office, and 24 July. That’s 50% more than in the first 7 months of 2018, and more than double the area cleared in the same period in 2017.

Another system, the Amazon Deforestation Satellite Monitoring Project (PRODES), generates Brazil’s official yearly deforestation rates, calculated from a selection of high-resolution photos from different satellites. Although PRODES is more accurate than DETER, the two systems tend to agree with each other, so it’s likely that the next PRODES report, expected in December, will show a deforestation spike of similar magnitude, analysts say.

To declare INPE’s data a lie is akin to arguing that the Earth is flat.

Bill Laurance, James Cook University

Annual deforestation rates declined by more than 80% between 2004, when DETER became operational, and 2012, but have been trending upward since then. Some 7500 square kilometers of forest were felled in 2018. But this year’s spike stands out, experts say. “Rather than being a surprise, the result confirms the many anecdotal accounts of deforestation [activities] on the ground, and it fits with the expectation from the climate of impunity that the administration’s rhetoric has promoted,” says Philip Fearnside of the National Institute for Research in Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil.

Bolsonaro is a fierce critic of Brazil’s environmental regulations and law enforcement agencies, which he claims are biased against agriculture and economic development. He has transferred control over indigenous lands to the Ministry of Agriculture and promised to review the boundaries of national parks and other protected areas that he says are slowing down progress in Brazil.

Other scientists defend INPE’s numbers. “To declare INPE’s data a lie is akin to arguing that the Earth is flat,” Laurance says. “I have always been impressed with the technical skill of scientists at INPE and applaud them for their trailblazing efforts to provide annual estimates of deforestation,” says Douglas Morton, chief of the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland in College Park.

INPE got much less support from Brazil’s minister of science and technology, former NASA astronaut and aerospace engineer Marcos Pontes, whose department oversees the institute. In a 22 July statement, Pontes, a member of Bolsonaro’s party, said he holds INPE “in high regard,” but condoned Bolsonaro’s concerns while condemning Galvão’s counterpunch. Pontes said he had requested a “full technical report” from INPE about the past 24 months of deforestation data and said his ministry had invited Galvão for “clarifications and guidance.” He has also said he agrees INPE should not make its data public as soon as they are ready.

“Of course, nobody expected [Pontes] to clash with the president,” says Mercedes Bustamante, an ecologist at the University of Brasília and co-founder of the Coalition for Science and Society, “but the tone of his statement was disappointing.”


Posted in: doi:10.1126/science.aay9103

Herton Escobar

Herton Escobar is a science and environment journalist in São Paulo, Brazil.


Brazil space institute director sacked in Amazon deforestation row

Far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro calls satellite data showing rise in deforestation ‘lies’

By  in Rio de Janeiro - TG - 

Aerial view of logged forest

An aerial view of a deforested section of the Amazon in Porto Velho, Brazil. Photograph: Nacho Doce/Reuter

The director of Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) has been sacked in the midst of a controversy over its satellite data showing a rise in Amazon deforestation, which the far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has called “lies”.

Ricardo Galvão, who had defended the institute and criticised Bolsonaro’s attack, was dismissed on Friday after a meeting with the science and technology minister, Marcos Pontes.

“The way I expressed myself in relation to the president has caused an unsustainable embarrassment,” Galvão said on Friday morning, according to the Folha de S Paulo newspaper site.

“Sacking the director of INPE is just an act of vengeance against someone who showed the truth,” said Greenpeace Brasil’s public policy coordinator, Márcio Astrini, in a statement.

Created in 2004, the Deter satellite system makes monthly and daily data publicly available on a regularly updated government website. Its data for recent months showed an alarming rise in deforestation in recent months: it soared 88% in June compared with a year earlier. The first half of July was 68% up on the whole of July 2018.

Bolsonaro and has ministers have called its release irresponsible and an attempt to stain Brazil’s image abroad. Last month he called INPE numbers “lies” and implied that Galvão was in “the service” of a foreign non-profit group. The next day Galvão said the president behaved “like he is in a bar” and defended the institute’s data.

The most accurate data on deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is collected by the Prodes satellite system and released annually. The Deter satellite system has a lower resolution and is primarily used for deforestation alerts, said Tasso Azevedo, a former head of Brazil’s forest service. But over the last 12 years, whenever annual Deter data showed deforestation increasing, Prodes confirmed the trend and calculated an even higher rate. Publicly available Prodes data goes back to 1988.

Azevedo is the coordinator of MapBiomas, an initiative from NGOs, universities and technology companies that monitors changes in land use. He said that from January to July, accumulated Deter numbers showed a 62% increase in deforestation compared with the same period last year, and that three other international satellite monitoring systems had also shown rising deforestation. “All have different methodology, so the data is different, but all of them point to a rise in deforestation,” he said.

On Thursday, Bolsonaro and the environment minister, Ricardo Salles, criticised the release of data as irresponsible and sensationalist. “The numbers were thrashed out, it seems to me, with the aim of striking at the name of Brazil and the government,” Bolsonaro said.

In a presentation, Salles said his team had found hundreds of areas of deforestation included in the July figures from previous months or years. He did not explain the methodology used. INPE defended its numbers in a statement and said it had not been given prior access to Salles’s study.

The government fears that the alarming data could prejudice an important trade deal between the South American trade bloc, Mercosur, and the EU. Environmentalists said the damage had already been done.

“Brazil’s image is already hopelessly compromised by this crusade against the facts,” said Carlos Rittl, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory.


Deforestation of Brazilian Amazon surges to record high

Environmentalists fear 2019 will be one of worst years for deforestation in recent memory

By  - @jonathanwatts

Inspectors walk through an area affected by illegal mining in Pará state in Brazil’s Amazon basin

Inspectors walk through an area affected by illegal mining in Pará state in Brazil’s Amazon basin. The rainforest lost 739sq km during the 31 days of May Photograph: Vinicius Mendonca/AP

Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon surged last month to the highest May level since the current monitoring method began, prompting concerns that president Jair Bolsonaro is giving a free pass to illegal logging, farming and mining.

The world’s greatest rainforest – which is a vital provider of oxygen and carbon sequestration – lost 739sq km during the 31 days, equivalent to two football pitches every minute, according to data from the government’s satellite monitoring agency.

Although a single month is too short to confirm long-term trends, May is considered an important guide because it marks the start of the dry season, which is when most burning and other forms of forest clearance are carried out.

Unless the government sends a clear signal it will not tolerate a further acceleration, environmentalists fear there will be an increase in the coming months that could make 2019 one of the worst years for deforestation in recent memory.

“The government can’t deny these numbers from their own agency. The question now is what they’ll do about it,” said Carlos Souza, of the independent monitoring group Imazon. “By the end of July. we’ll have a clear idea of the impact of recent moves to dismantle environmental policies.”

Since the far-right Bolsonaro came to power in January, he has weakened the environment ministry, loosened controls on economic exploitation of the Amazon, halted demarcation of indigenous land and encouraged mining and farming interests to expand in the region.

Since the president criticised the government’s main monitoring agency as a “fines industry”, it has issued a fewer penalties than at any time in 11 years and the number of inspection operations is down 70% from last year.

His environment minister, Ricardo Salles, who was convicted for environmental fraud and had never visited the Amazon region before this year, has further undermined morale by failing to appoint regional chiefs and by firing veteran inspectors. Earlier this week, Folha reported he was moving to privatise the satellite monitoring of the forest.

He has also vexed donors Norway and Germany by proposing to weaken the voice of civil society in deciding how the $1.3bn Amazon Fund is spent.

In congress, the dominant agricultural lobby is pushing for further relaxations, including the breakup of protected areas.

Bolsonaro’s oldest son, Flavio, who is a senator, recently proposed a reform of the forest code that would remove the obligation of farmers in the Amazon to maintain forest cover on 50-80% of their property. This measure would reportedly open up an area larger than Iran for extractive industries. A growing wave of speculative land claims are being registered inside reserves, which is putting more pressure on the boundaries.

“The spike in deforestation is depressing, but hardly surprising: you have a government in Brazil who is dismantling nearly every environmental policy put in place since 1992 and who is harassing federal environmental agents, thus empowering environmental criminals,” said Carlos Rittl, the executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, an NGO formed by a coalition of environmental groups. “However, we must wait and see how it will behave in June.”

Other factors might have contributed to the increase. The first few months of this year were cloudy and rainy, which made satellite monitoring more difficult, so some areas might have been missed by earlier sweeps. The bad weather could also have prompted loggers and farmers to delay land clearance until May. The economy, which is often a driver of deforestation during period of high beef and soy prices, has also been in the doldrums, though Bolsonaro has indicated that agribusiness can help to lift Brazil towards positive growth.

In this regard, he is echoing and amplifying the message of his predecessors as president, Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer, both of whom presided over periods of accelerated forest clearance as they became reliant on the rural lobby and commodity exports to China and Europe.

Another factor is an expansion of infrastructure projects, including roads and hydroelectric plants. The Brazilian state that suffered the greatest deforestation last month was Pará, which is home to the BR163 road through the Amazon and the Belo Monte dam.


Amazon deforestation graphic

The Brazilian Amazon rainforest lost 739 sq km last month – a record for May since current satellite monitoring began