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Brazil’s Amazon deforestation fell by 68% in April under Lula da Silva

Taking the reins from Jair Bolsonaro in January, Lula da Silva has thus far honoured his pledge to tackle Brazil’s astronomical deforestation problem. In April, the rate of such activity was down 68% on the previous year.

In the run-up to Brazil’s elections last October, several ecological experts suggested the future of the Amazon rainforest relied solely on who would become president.

Jair Bolsonaro’s contentious stint of three years had brought deforestation rates to 15-year highs when Lula da Silva returned to the hot seat for a third time.

Stepping into his predecessor’s legacy of pro-gun policies, anti-LGBTQ+ bills, lax COVID-19 measures, and anti-environmental laws, the 77-year-old instantly promised two things: a return to democracy, and a pathway to ‘zero deforestation.’

Despite da Silva’s instant reactivation of the Amazon Fund, intended to raise donations and investment for the preservation of the rainforest, and instatement of a fresh civil society council on ecological matters, deforestation data in his early months made for grim reading and reflected the difficulty of the task at hand.

Government satellites showed that the nefarious practice was up 68% on the previous year in January – which, alarmingly, represented the highest monthly total since records began.

Da Silva assured that he had expected a hike in criminal activity throughout the rain season as a sort of retaliation against national crackdowns, but that the side of justice would ultimately prevail.

Having successfully put a huge dent in deforestation during his first tenure, da Silva’s newest efforts may already be bearing fruit as we approach summer 2023.

Deforestation in the month of April was reportedly down 68% on last year’s figures. While 1,026 square km was cleared previously – an area larger than Berlin – just 328.71 square km were destroyed in this year’s recordings. That is well below the monthly historical average of 466 square km.

Between January and April 2023, 1,173 square km of land was uprooted, denoting more than a 40% overall drop on the 1,968 square km in the same period of 2022.

Those with a bright outlook will suggest that da Silva’s military campaign to protect indigenous lands and prevent illegal mining is beginning to work already, but we need to see continued progress in the coming months before such optimism can be justified.

As he strives for an end to all illegal logging by 2030, eyes are peeled for the typically rampant period of criminal activity between July and September. That’s not to say that national authorities should be cleared of any and all wrongdoing, however.

Major infrastructure projects in the Amazon are threatening to derail progress in much the same way, including the Ferrograo railway build for transport gains, and the restoration of an abandoned highway running through ‘protected’ parts of the rainforest.

On a positive note, Brazil’s environment regulator blocked an oil drilling initiative near the mouth of the Amazon River just yesterday, though a contentious renewal for a gigantic hydroelectric dam, the Belo Monte, remains a real possibility.

We should, of course, celebrate the milestone achieved in April as it could be indicative of a real turning point. Nevertheless, only time will tell if da Silva is quite as serious about ecological preservation as he sounds.