Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has fallen to its lowest level in five years, according to the country’s National Institute for Space Research announced Thursdaya sign that Brazil, which has the world’s largest share of tropical forests, was making progress in its pledge to halt all deforestation by the end of the decade.
The institute reported that 3,500 square miles were logged between August 2022 and July 2023, a 22.3% decrease from the same period the previous year. The decrease in tree loss is estimated to have reduced the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 7.5%. Brazil is the sixth largest emitter in the world, by some measures.
“Behind all this there was a political decision,” Marina Silva, Brazil’s environment minister, said at a news conference on Thursday. “We are changing the image of the country when we change this reality.”
The announcement was an encouraging sign that local policies could change the trajectory of global forest loss. According to an annual survey by the World Resources Institute, the world lost 10.2 million acres of primary forest in 2022, a 10% increase from the previous year. Brazil is responsible for more than 40% of recorded destruction.
The results were announced nearly a year after President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took office in January. In his victory speech in October 2022 he stated that Brazil was “ready to resume its role as a leader in the fight against the climate crisis”.
Two-thirds of the deforestation occurred before Lula took office, the government said. Under his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, deforestation rates rose to their highest level in 15 years as the Bolsonaro administration relaxed environmental protection policies.
Environmental fines in the Amazon more than doubled under Lula, the government said, as his administration sought to rebuild forest protection policies. Almost all deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest is illegal, much of it the result of farmers grabbing land and replacing trees with pasture.
Brazil is not the only country making progress in the region. Colombia, which has a tenth of the Amazon forest, announced the rate of deforestation in that area on Tuesday had decreased by 70%. in the first nine months of the year.
But El Niño, the climate pattern that helped cause a historic drought that fueled large wildfires in the region, could jeopardize some of the progress made in the region, environment ministers from both countries acknowledged.
The fires consumed more than 18,000 square miles of the Brazilian Amazon in the first nine months of the year, an area twice the size of Vermont.
More than a third of the fires raging in the Brazilian Amazon are destroying old-growth forests, Silva said. “It shows that climate change is already having an impact on the forest,” she added.