Brazil's Amazon deforestation sets first-quarter record despite March dip

April 8 (Reuters) - Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest fell 15% in March from a year earlier, preliminary government data showed on Friday, but even with that dip it was enough to drive the most destruction during the first quarter in at least six years.

From January to March, deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon rose 64% from a year ago to 941 square kilometers (363 square miles), data from national space research agency Inpe showed. That area, larger than New York City, is the most forest cover lost in the period since the data series began in 2015/2016.

Destruction of the world's largest rainforest has surged since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019 and weakened environmental protections, arguing that they hinder economic development that could reduce poverty in the Amazon region.

The president's office and the Environment Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A UN climate panel report on Monday warned that governments are not doing enough to rein in greenhouse gas emissions in order to avert the worst effects of global warming. read more While fossil fuel use is mostly to blame, deforestation accounts for about 10% of global emissions, according to the report. read more

"Brazil is an example of what the UN climate report is saying when referring to governments not taking the necessary actions," said Cristiane Mazzetti, a forest campaigner in Brazil for environmental advocacy group Greenpeace.

"We have a government that goes deliberately against the necessary steps to limit climate change."

Some scientists predict deforestation will continue to rise ahead of Brazil's October presidential election, as it has ahead of the last three elections.

Environmental enforcement typically weakens in election years and criminals may rush to deforest ahead of a new government taking office, according to Carlos Souza Jr, a researcher at the institute Imazon.

A poll on Thursday showed that left-wing former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose administration drastically reduced deforestation in the 2000s, would get 45% of the vote over 31% for Bolsonaro in the first round of the election. read more

Reporting by Jake Spring Editing by Brad Haynes and Bill Berkrot

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Jake Spring reports primarily on forests, climate diplomacy, carbon markets and climate science. Based in Brazil, his investigative reporting on destruction of the Amazon rainforest under ex-President Jair Bolsonaro won 2021 Best Reporting in Latin America from the Overseas Press Club of America ( His beat reporting on Brazil’s environmental destruction won a Covering Climate Now award and was honored by the Society of Environmental Journalists. He joined Reuters in 2014 in China, where he previously worked as editor-in-chief of China Economic Review. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and Brazilian Portuguese.