Brazil scientists warn of possible election-year spike in deforestation

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An aerial view shows a dead tree near a forest on the border between Amazonia and Cerrado in Nova Xavantina, Mato Grosso state, Brazil July 28, 2021. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli

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SAO PAULO, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Deforestation researchers warned on Thursday that destruction in Brazil's Amazon rainforest could rise another 16% this year, based on their models, as destruction often rises in an election year, according to an analysis by a Brazilian non-profit.

Deforestation in the region hit a 15-year high in 2021, according to government statistics. read more

Environmental research institute Imazon said its artificial intelligence system for highlighting areas at risk for deforestation indicated more than 15,000 square kilometers could be destroyed in the Brazilian rainforest in the 12 month period through July, the official annual period for measuring deforestation.

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Clearing of the rainforest has increased in each of the past three election years, Imazon researcher Carlos Souza Jr. said in a statement, raising concerns that it could rise again ahead of the October presidential election.

The Amazon, the world's largest rainforest, is seen as vital to stopping catastrophic climate change because of the vast amount of greenhouse gas that it absorbs.

However, destruction of the jungle has surged since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019 and weakened environmental protections. The president has said environmental laws hinder economic development, calling for more commercial farming and mining in the Amazon to lift the region out of poverty.

The presidential palace and Environment Ministry did not immediately respond to request for comment on the Imazon forecast.

Preliminary government statistics for last month showed deforestation hit a record high for the month of January. read more

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Reporting by Jake Spring; editing by Diane Craft

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