Destruction of Brazil's Amazon rainforest speeds up for 2nd straight month

BRASILIA, May 7 (Reuters) - Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest rose 43% in April from the same month a year ago, preliminary government data showed on Friday, the second consecutive monthly rise as destruction picked up ahead of the annual burning season.

In the first four months of 2021, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon totaled 1,157 square kilometers, an area nearly the size of Los Angeles and down 4% from a year earlier, according to national space research agency Inpe.

Brazil is under intense international pressure led by the United States to rein in destruction of the world's largest tropical rainforest, critical in curbing catastrophic climate change because of the vast amount of greenhouse gas absorbed.

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At a leaders summit last month organized by the United States, President Jair Bolsonaro committed to increase funding for environmental enforcement and to end deforestation by 2030.

But U.S. President Joe Biden's administration, which is in talks to possibly fund Brazilian conservation efforts, says it expects immediate action to reduce deforestation this year.

Illegal logging and forest fires have soared since Bolsonaro took office in 2019, with deforestation hitting a 12-year high in 2020, government data showed.

"Biden doesn't want to be in a position where it looks like he is being too soft on Brazil when it comes to the environment," said Anya Prusa, a senior associate for the Brazil Institute at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington.

The overall trend in deforestation matters more than a single month, Prusa added.

"If deforestation goes back up, if we see again significant forest fires in the Amazon in August and September this year, it will make it harder for the U.S. to continue talking to Brazil."

Bolsonaro's press representatives referred questions to the vice president's office.

The Vice Presidency said in a statement that the data was designed to help authorities rapidly respond to deforestation, adding that comparing single months from different years was not appropriate and only longer term comparisons should be made.

Negotiations with the United States continue normally, the statement said.

Early months of the year, when intense rains prevent loggers from easily working in the forest, have limited impact on the Amazon's overall annual deforestation rates, as destruction peaks in the drier season from May to October.

Deforestation in the month of July 2020 alone was higher than the four months of January to April combined this year.

Immense clouds during the rainy season also hide fresh deforestation from government satellites. Cloud cover in the region ranged from 26% to 48% in the first four months of the year, far higher than the 17% to 32% seen in the same period of 2020.

Any deforestation hidden early in the year is registered by satellites in subsequent months when the clouds clear.

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Reporting by Jake Spring Editing by Brad Haynes and Steve Orlofsky

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Global Climate & Environment Correspondent, based in Brazil. Interests include science, forests, geoengineering, cryosphere, climate policy/diplomacy, accountability and investigative reporting. His work on environmental destruction under Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro received awards from Covering Climate Now and the Society of Environmental Journalists. Previously based in China, he is fluent in Portuguese and Mandarin Chinese.