Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is contradicted by data and aerial images, non-governmental organizations say.
Bolsonaro said in his remarks that the Amazon had “a 32% reduction in deforestation in the month of August when compared to August of the previous year.”
Brazil's president used numbers from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) released on Friday that points to a 918 square kilometers deforestation rate for August.
The number is almost double of what was registered in August 2018, before the Bolsonaro administration. Data from the Amazon Institute of Man and Environment (Imazon) – which monitors the deforested areas by satellite – however, points to 1.606 square kilometers of deforestation in August, a 7% rise in comparison to the same month of 2020. It is also the highest rate for August in a decade, according to Imazon´s satellites imagery.
After Bolsonaro's speech in New York, Amazon in Flames Alliance, a group formed by NGOs Amazon Watch, Greenpeace Brazil, and the Brazilian Climate Observatory, released aerial images of an expedition at Rondonia and Amazonas states on Brazilian Amazon between Sept. 14 and 17.
The images show large areas of the Amazon deforested in July, already consumed by fire, scars from mining activities within protected areas, illegal landing strips, large plots of land being prepared for planting, and cattle grazing alongside recent fires.
“While Bolsonaro was en route to New York, we flew over the Amazon to record the reality of the destruction of the largest tropical rainforest in the world: illegal deforestation and burning. The images don’t lie, but the same cannot be said of the President's speech at the UN,” says Stela Herschmann, climate policy specialist at the Climate Observatory.
Some background: Under the Bolsonaro administration, Amazonas surpassed Rondonia as the third state with the worst level of deforestation, according to INPE. In August alone, 8.588 fire spots were registered in the state, surpassing the record for the same month in 2020, which, in turn, had surpassed that of 2019. Fires are used by land grabbers and ranchers as a tool to deforest areas and take the land.
“Enforcement agencies such as IBAMA need to recover their capacity to act. Losing the southern Amazon, considered the heart of the Amazon, could bring us even closer to the forest’s tipping point. This is a time to act against the crimes, and not to cover them up,” says Ana Paula Vargas, Amazon Watch Brazil Program director.