Discover more from Sustainability by numbers
Is deforestation falling in the Amazon?
Deforestation rates have fallen by around 42% compared to last year.
When the new Brazilian president – Lula da Silva – took office this year, he pledged to end deforestation by 2030.
This followed several years of climbing deforestation rates under Jair Bolsonaro.
It’s still early in his term, but initial results are already coming in from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).
Is progress being made, and how does deforestation compare to previous years?
Let’s take a look at the data.
A brief history of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon
First, let me give a quick overview of the long-term deforestation trend in the Amazon. At the beginning of the year, I wrote a more detailed post on this.
The chart below shows deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon since the late 1980s. Deforestation peaked decades ago – in the early 2000s, if we ignore the very high year of 1995.
Then, rates fell dramatically. From 2004 to 2012, deforestation fell by 84%. But after several low years, rates doubled again into the early 2020s.
Looking at who was President during these periods is helpful. In the following chart, I labelled the sitting President under each year. In blue, you can see Lula da Silva’s previous record in office. He spearheaded the dramatic decline in the early 2000s.
In contrast, you can see – in red – that rates started to increase again during Bolsonaro’s term (although they were still much lower than a few decades ago).
Has Lula da Silva managed to reduce deforestation again?
Lula da Silva took office again in 2023, with a commitment to ending deforestation. Has he had any success so far?
Yes. If we look at deforestation rates from January to July (the latest month we have), we can see that deforestation has dropped. It has fallen by 42% compared to last year. This is shown in the chart below. Again, Lula da Silva is in blue; Jair Bolsonaro in red.
The most significant drop has been for July, which is often the peak deforestation month. In the chart below we see data for July only.
Rates this year were 66% lower than last year.
It hasn’t been totally plain-sailing though. Deforestation rates have fallen significantly in recent months, but they were relatively high at the beginning of 2023. Things were actually worse in February and March than they were last year.
We see this in the chart below, which shows the comparisons by month.
Despite a slow start, we see that rates were much lower than last year from April onwards. Again, we can see how high July rates usually are compared to other months. The massive drop last month has mattered a lot for the total January-to-July decline.
Deforestation will not fall to zero overnight
This drop in deforestation looks very promising. But we should also be careful about putting too much weight on short-term changes. We need several years of data to establish a real understanding of where things are headed.
Getting deforestation to zero will not be an overnight success. It’s not an easy problem to solve.
As I explained in my earlier post, pushing back against the short-term economic trade-offs of halting deforestation is challenging. There is an opportunity cost for some groups. Farmers could make money from growing crops or raising cattle on deforested land. By leaving trees standing, they’re forgoing this income.
Developing a strategy to get deforestation down to zero will take time, even with the most committed government.
And Brazil also can’t do it alone. It is home to just 60% of the Amazon, with the rest spread across various South American countries, including Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, and Ecuador. The leaders of eight of those countries have been meeting this week as part of a landmark summit to protect the Amazon.