However, the destruction was still the second-lowest amount of
jungle destroyed since Brazil began tracking deforestation in 1988.
The increase in deforestation came in the August 2012 through July
2013 period, the time when Brazil annually measures the destruction
of the forest by studying satellite images. The country registered
its lowest level of Amazon felling the year before.
The Amazon rainforest is considered one of the world's most
important natural defenses against global warming because of its
capacity to absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide. About 75 percent
of Brazil's emissions come from rainforest clearing, as vegetation
burns and felled trees rot.
That releases an estimated 400 million tons of carbon dioxide into
the atmosphere every year, making Brazil at least the sixth-biggest
emitter of the gas.
Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said Thursday that the most
recent figures show 2,256 square miles (5,843 square kilometers) of
rainforest were felled. That's compared to the 1,765 square miles
(1,571 square kilometers) cleared the previous year.
Environmentalists blame the increase on a loosening of Brazil's
environmental laws. They also say that the government's push for big
infrastructure projects like dams, roads and railways is pushing
A bill revising the Forest Code law passed Congress last year after
more than a decade of efforts by Brazil's powerful agricultural
lobby to make changes to what has been one of the world's toughest
environmental laws, at least on paper.
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The changes mostly eased restrictions for landowners with smaller
properties, allowing them to clear land closer to riverbanks and
other measures. Perhaps the most controversial portion of the new
law was what activists say was an amnesty, allowing those who
illegally felled land to not face penalties if they signed an
agreement to replant trees, which many environmentalists question
could be enforced.
Paulo Adario, coordinator of Greenpeace's Amazon campaign, said that
it was scandalous that there was such a spike in the destruction.
"The government can't be surprised by this increase in
deforestation, given that their own action is what's pushing it," he
said. "The change in the Forest Code and the resulting amnesty for
those who illegally felled the forest sent the message that such
crimes have no consequences."
Adario also said the Rousseff government's strong push for
infrastructure projects in the Amazon region was leading to
increased deforestation, and Thursday's government report showed
that much of the destruction was centered along a
government-improved roadway running through the states of Para and
Better roads make it easier to illegally extract timber from the
jungle and push more soy farmers and ranchers, who clear trees so
they can work land and plant pasture, into previously untouched
Press; MARCO SIBAJA]
Associated Press writer
Brad Brooks contributed to this report from Rio de Janeiro.
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