Brazil stops tracking savanna deforestation despite rising destruction

SAO PAULO, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Brazil will stop monitoring deforestation in the Cerrado, the world's most species-rich savanna, a government researcher said on Thursday citing a lack of funds, days after data showed destruction hitting a 6-year high in 2021.

The Cerrado, which neighbors the Amazon rainforest and stretches across several Brazilian states, is a major bulwark against climate change due to the carbon it absorbs. It is often likened to an upside-down forest because its plants sink roots deep into the ground.

Deforestation rose 8% to 8,531 square kilometers (2.11 million acres) in the Cerrado for the 12-months through July, data from national space research agency Inpe showed on Friday.

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The decision to stop monitoring the Cerrado was made because of budget cuts, said Claudio Almeida, a scientist who coordinates satellite monitoring at Inpe.

Inpe will no longer produce annual figures for Cerrado deforestation unless it is able to find a new source of funding, Almeida said in a written message.

A "minimal team" will continue producing monthly deforestation figures for the Cerrado but will run out of money in six months or less, he said.

Inpe's press office did not respond to a request for comment.

The move to stop monitoring the Cerrado appears to be another setback for environmental protection under right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro has railed against environmental protections hindering economic growth and he has weakened enforcement of conservation laws.

The president's office did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Marcio Astrini, head of the environmental group Climate Observatory, said he hoped the government would find funding to continue monitoring such a vital ecosystem.

"Monitoring shows if deforestation is advancing, and if deforestation will doom a biome that is so important for Brazilians," Astrini said.

But he said he is not optimistic given Bolsonaro's record. The president has attacked Inpe in the past, in 2019 accusing the agency of lying about the data showing soaring Amazon rainforest deforestation.

Earlier this week, scientists expressed alarm at the rising destruction in the Cerrado, saying it results in huge greenhouse gas emissions and threatens to drive species to extinction.

"Every time you go to the Cerrado to do field research, it's not rare to discover a new species of plant or even animals," said Manuel Ferreira, a geographer at the Federal University of Goias. "There are still many species yet to be studied."

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Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Sandra Maler

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.