Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon drops 34 per cent in first half of 2023

An aerial view shows a deforested area during an operation to combat deforestation near Uruara, Para State, Brazil 21 January, 2023.Reuters

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon fell 34 per cent in the first half of 2023, preliminary government data showed on Thursday, 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 2,649 square km (1,023 square miles) 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.

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 totaled 663 sq km, down 41 per cent 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.