Data from INPE satellites show that 3,750 square kilometers (1,448 square miles) of the world’s largest rainforest was lost in Brazil between January 1 and June 24, the largest area since 2016, when the institute began this type of monitoring.
INPE satellites have recorded new monthly deforestation records since the beginning of the year, and last month there were 2,562 fires in the Amazon Basin.
May and June usually mark the start of significant annual fires and deforestation in the Amazon due to the dry season.
In May, INPE detected 2,287 rainforest fires, the highest number for that month since 2004.
Destruction of the world’s largest rainforest has skyrocketed since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019 and has eased environmental protections, arguing that it impedes economic development that could reduce poverty in the Amazon region.
While the president has passed several executive orders and laws to protect the rainforest, he has simultaneously cut funding for government conservation and monitoring programs and pushed for the opening of indigenous lands to commercial farming and mining.
In October 2021, a group of climate lawyers called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Bolsonaro for his alleged attacks on the Amazon, which they say are “crimes against humanity”.
But Brazil’s president has rebuffed international critics for better protection of the rainforest.
In early May, Bolsonaro lashed out at Leonardo DiCaprio, saying the actor had better “keep his mouth shut” after speaking out about the ecological importance of the Amazon.
Some scientists predict that deforestation will continue to rise ahead of Brazil’s October presidential election, as it has done ahead of the last three elections.
According to Carlos Souza Jr., a researcher at Brazil’s Imazon Research Institute, environmental measures tend to loosen up during election years, and criminals may rush to clear forests ahead of a new government.