Explanation: Causes and consequences of fires and deforestation in the Amazon

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Aug 10 (Reuters) – Brazil pledged last year to halt deforestation by 2030, but the number of fires burning in the country’s Amazon rainforest hit its highest level in 15 years in June . The fire season started last month and the rate of deforestation remains high. Read more

Things could get worse this month, as fires in Brazil traditionally peak in August and September. Here are some factors that lead to the destruction of the largest rainforest in the world.

WHAT CAUSES FIRES?

Unlike forest fires in Europe or the United States, fires do not occur naturally in the Amazon rainforest. Instead, farmers cut down forests and set fire to trees to clear land, and sometimes these fires get out of hand.

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WHY ARE BRAZIL’S FIRES SO BAD AT THIS TIME OF YEAR?

August and September are the peak of the dry season in the Amazon, when fires become more difficult to control. The gradual onset of the rainy season in October generally brings relief.

IS CLIMATE CHANGE AFFECTING WILDFIRES IN THE AMAZON?

Historically, the virgin rainforest will remain moist throughout the year and resist fires. But climate change is bringing higher temperatures and drier conditions that make it harder to control a fire.

HAVE FIRES IN BRAZIL BEEN WORSE THAN USUAL IN RECENT YEARS?

Yes. Wildfires have worsened since 2019, when right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office and sought to weaken environmental protections.

His government has cut the budget of environmental agencies, curtailed their crime-fighting powers, and hobbled the environmental fines system. Experts say that under Bolsonaro, farmers, ranchers and land grabbers feel emboldened to destroy the forest without punishment.

Bolsonaro says protected areas in the Amazon should be opened up for mining and agriculture to fight poverty. Its historic policy of protecting the Amazon, deploying the army to guard the forest, has not mitigated the destruction.

HOW WORSE IS FOREST LOSS SINCE 2019?

Between August 2020 and July 2021, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon soared 22% to its highest level since 2006, according to the government’s annual report. Roughly

13,235 square kilometers (5,110 sq mi) of forest has been cleared. Read more

Previous governments had sharply reduced deforestation by improving law enforcement, satellite monitoring and policies such as banning soybeans produced in the Amazon. The problem was rampant in the early 2000s.

But much of that progress has been reversed. Last year, Brazil counted more than 75,000 fires in the Amazon. In 2020, there were 103,000 fires, up 51% from 2018, the year before Bolsonaro took office.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly denied an increase in fires under his presidency, despite government data.

WILL THIS YEAR’S FIRE SEASON BE DIFFERENT?

Brazil will hold presidential elections in October. Experts expect forest destruction to increase ahead of this vote, as it has before the four previous elections, as vote-courting government officials ease environmental law enforcement.

Leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known for his tougher stance against environmental crime, is leading the polls. Analysts say this could encourage a rush into forest crimes while Bolsonaro remains in power.

DO AMAZON FIRES CONTRIBUTE TO CLIMATE CHANGE?

Yes. The destruction of ancient trees in the Amazon releases a lot of climate-warming carbon dioxide, most of it immediately when the remaining foliage of the forest is burned.

Severe reductions in deforestation are important to combat climate change, scientists say, as the destruction of tropical rainforests is responsible for around 9% of man-made CO2 emissions.

A study last year estimated that Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions for 2020 increased by 9.5% largely due to emissions from deforestation. Read more

Brazil hopes to use its forests to generate carbon offsets to meet its global emission reduction commitments. Scientists have determined that old-growth rainforest can store significantly more carbon than reclaimed land. Some estimate that a hectare of virgin forest contains 176 tons of carbon, while a replanted forest would store around 44 tons in 10 years and that a soybean field or a cow pasture would only contain 5 tons of carbon or less. .

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Reporting by Jake Spring in Sao Paulo and Gloria Dickie in London; Editing by Katy Daigle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Jacques Spring

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 Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been recognized by Covering Climate Now and the Society of Environmental Journalists. Previously based in China, he is fluent in Portuguese and Mandarin Chinese.

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