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Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon drops 34% in first half 2023

Rio Napo in the middle of the Varzea Forest, Napo Wildlife lodge, Yasuni Nationl Park, Amazon, Ecuador. 
Biosphoto / Michel Gunther (Photo by Michel Gunther / Biosphoto / Biosphoto via AFP)
The Amazon has seen tougher policies on deforestation under Brazil's new president. Photo: Michel Gunther / Biosphoto

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon fell 34 percent in the first half of 2023, preliminary government data showed this week, hitting its lowest level in four years as President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva institutes tougher environmental policies.

Data produced by Brazil's national space research agency Inpe indicated that 2649 sq km of rainforest were cleared in the region in the half year, the lowest for the period since 2019.

But that's an area more than three times the size of New York City, underscoring the challenge Lula faces to eliminate deforestation entirely.

"It's very positive, but we continue to have very high levels of deforestation," said Daniel Silva, an analyst at nonprofit WWF-Brasil.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (centre), sits with his wife (left) and indigenous leader of the Kayapo tribe Cacique Raoni Metuktire (right) at the Terra Livre Indigenous summit discussing land rights and indigenous culture, on 28 April, 2023.
Brazil President Silva took office in January. Photo: AFP/ Carl De Souza

Lula took office in January promising to end deforestation by 2030, after surging destruction under his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, who had slashed environmental protection efforts.

The former far-right leader had called for more farming and mining on protected lands, saying it would lift the region out of poverty.

Environment Minister Marina Silva said in a press briefing that the fall in deforestation was a direct result of the Lula government quickly ramping up resources for environmental enforcement.

"We are making every effort to ensure that (our anti-deforestation plan) is already in full swing. This is the result of our emergency efforts," Silva said.

In June alone, Inpe satellite data showed deforestation totalled 663 sq km, down 41 percent from the same month a year ago.

Whether annual deforestation will show a decline remains unclear, as the annual peak in deforestation and fires from July to September lies ahead.

"July tends to have an explosion in deforestation," said Joao Paulo Capobianco, Silva's deputy at the Environment Ministry.

Last month, Brazil's government unveiled its plans to meet Lula's pledge to eliminate deforestation in the Amazon by 2030, using a long list of measures including strengthened law enforcement against environmental crimes and green economic development.

* This story was first published by Reuters.