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Deforestation in Brazilian Amazon halved in 2023

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell by half last year, according to new figures, as President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government bolstered environmental policing to crack down on surging destruction.

However, the news was far less bright from the crucial Cerrado savannah below the rainforest, where clear-cutting hit a new annual record last year, rising by 43% from 2022, according to the national space research agency’s DETER surveillance programme.

Satellite monitoring detected 5,152 square kilometres of forest cover destroyed in the Brazilian Amazon last year, down 50% from 2022.

It is the world’s biggest rainforest, whose carbon-absorbing trees play a vital role in curbing climate change.

Meanwhile, the Cerrado, a biodiversity hotspot whose ecosystems are intricately linked with the Amazon’s, lost over 7,800sq/km of native vegetation last year, the highest since monitoring began in 2018.

“We saw some important victories on the environment in 2023. The significant reduction in deforestation in the Amazon was a highlight,” said Mariana Napolitano of environmental group WWF-Brasil.

“But unfortunately we aren’t seeing the same trend in the Cerrado … that is harming the biome and the extremely important ecosystem services it provides. We saw the impact at the end of the year, with extremely high temperatures.”

The Cerrado, in Brazil, is a biodiversity hotspot

Environmental groups have accused Mr Lula’s government of turning a blind eye to the destruction of the lesser-known Cerrado to appease the powerful agribusiness lobby.

The figures for both the Amazon and Cerrado were updated through to 29 December.

Taken together, the total area razed in the two regions was 12,980sq/km in 2023, down 18% from 2022.

After beating far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in a divisive election in 2022, Mr Lula – a veteran leftist – returned to office on 1 January 2023, vowing “Brazil is back” as a partner in the fight against climate change.

Agribusiness ally Mr Bolsonaro (2019-2022) had drawn international criticism for presiding over a 75% increase in average annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon versus the previous decade.

Experts say the destruction in both the Amazon and Cerrado is driven mainly by farming and cattle ranching in Brazil, the world’s top exporter of soybeans and beef.

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