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Truck with tree trunks from the Brazilian rainforest

Photo: ingimage / IMAGO

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest has fallen by almost a third since President Inácio Lula da Silva took office again, the state's monitoring program Deter announced on Wednesday. According to this, between January and May 1986, square kilometers of rainforest were destroyed. This is a decrease of 31 percent compared to the same period last year, when 2867 square kilometers were destroyed.

Lula has only been in office since January. According to his own statements, he wants to end illegal deforestation by 2030. Under his predecessor, the far-right Jair Bolsonaro, the destruction of the forest had reached new records.

However, it is questionable whether the quick success story of the decline in deforestation is really valid. As recently as March, data from the space research agency Inpe showed that 322 square kilometers were deforested in February, which is 62 percent more than in February 2022. In January, on the other hand, clear-cutting was below average, so that the beginning of 2023 still had a comparatively good balance overall. Inpe scientists also explain the monthly fluctuations with cloud cover: In January, deforestation was obscured on satellite images, only to be revealed in February.

Experts and environmental officials warned that it could take years to change course after Bolsonaro cut funding and staff at key agencies. So far, there is limited data to check whether Lula's conservation policy is working.

On the occasion of World Environment Day, Lula presented a comprehensive protection plan for the Amazon on Monday. Among other things, it provides for the immediate confiscation of half of all illegally used land within protected areas and the designation of three million hectares of additional protected areas by 2027. Lula's program builds on a project launched in 2004 during his first presidency, but which Bolsonaro had suspended.

Brazil has a "great importance for the climatic balance of the earth," Lula said at the presentation of the plan. Preventing the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest also means "helping to reduce global warming".

Last week, however, Lula's government suffered a major setback with regard to its plans in the Brazilian parliament. Members of the House of Commons voted in favour of a bill that would give responsibility for allocating new indigenous protected areas back to the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of the Environment would thus lose oversight of the registration of rural land use – a crucial tool in the fight against illegal logging. The Senate has yet to approve the bill.

The Amazon rainforest stretches across nine countries, most of it is located in Brazil. It is one of the few remaining large primeval forests in the world and is home to more plant and animal species than any other place on earth. In addition, with its billions of trees, it is an important carbon sink.