Fires in Brazil's Amazon are up 28% in July

Wildfires in the Amazon rainforest surge by almost a THIRD compared to a year ago – with 6,803 blazes recorded in Brazil in July alone

  • Brazilian agency reports 6,803 fires last month compared with 5,318 in July 2019
  • The Amazon has just entered the dry season meaning the surge may get steeper
  • Government agency fears August’s figure could top 30,900, as recorded in 2019

Fires in the Amazon rainforest increased 28 per cent in July from a year ago, a Brazilian state agency reveals.

There were 6,803 fires in the Amazon last month, compared to 5,318 in the same month of 2019, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) reported. 

As August traditionally marks the beginning of the fire season in the region, the rise is likely to continue, environmentalists warn. 

They fear Brazil could repeat the surge seen in fires in August a year ago, when 30,900 fires were recorded by INPE.   

Fire activity in the Amazon – along with much of the rest of south America – typically reaches its peak during the dry season between July and October each year. 

Forest fires can be caused by naturally occurring events including lightning strikes, but tend to be deliberately started by farmers to clear land for livestock or crops. 

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A freshly deforested area the Amazon rainforest. Although 6,803 is a three-year high for Amazonian fires in July, the figure pales in comparison to last year’s peak of 30,900 fires in August – a 12-year high for that month

‘It’s a terrible sign,’ Ane Alencar, science director at Brazil’s Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) told Reuters. 

‘We can expect that August will already be a difficult month and September will be worse yet.’      

Although 6,803 is a three-year high for July, the figure pales in comparison to last year’s peak of 30,900 fires in August – a 12-year high for that month. 

INPE previously reported that June 2020 was the 14th consecutive month where deforestation has increased in the Brazilian Amazon.

The number of Amazon fires in June reached a 13-year high in June – with 2,248 individual fires recorded by the government-backed agency. 

Carlos Rittl, senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Germany, told the Associated Press that trends in the Amazon are worrisome.

‘The tendency is that this will be a more dry year than 2019 and this makes it easier for the fire to spread,’ he said. 

The sharp increase in fires comes amid domestic and international concern over President Jair Bolsonaro’s calls to clear land in Brazil’s Amazon to drive economic development.

Addressing those concerns, on July 16, the government banned burning in the Pantanal wetlands and the Amazon forest for four months. 

Bolsonaro also issued an order in May for the military to coordinate environmental actions in the Amazon. 

Images taken by Greenpeace document vast swathes of Amazonian land that have already been razed

Fire activity in the Amazon — along with much of the rest of south America — typically reaches its peak between July and October each year. Pictured, deforestation in a region of the Amazon rainforest that has been affected by fire, as seen in the August 2019

Fire numbers indicate the government’s recent response is not being effective, according to experts, who point to the possibility that this year’s dry season will be even more prone to fires than last year. 

The Brazilian President has been accused of undermining efforts to protect the forest by encouraging logging and mining efforts as well as cutting the funding to the Ministry of the Environment. 

A climate change sceptic, he has also facilitated farming and mining projects on protected land and indigenous reserves. 

Fires are being set deliberately to make room for agriculture to feed growing demand for timber, leather and beef from places like the UK. 

Carlos Nobre, a researcher at the Advanced Studies Institute in the State University of Sao Paulo, said the deforestation index also has remained high this year until July, compared to the last couple of years.

‘We can conclude, with data until the end of July, that the effectiveness of government actions to reduce fires and deforestation is low,’ he said. 

Earlier this month, NASA said higher surface temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic Ocean in 2020 were drawing moisture away from the southern Amazon.

‘As a result, the southern Amazon landscape becomes dry and flammable, making human-set fires used for agriculture and land clearing more prone to growing out of control and spreading,’ the US space agency said. 

Britain’s obsession with timber, leather and beef ‘is having a heavy impact’ on the Amazon rainforest 

Britain has an obsession with timber, leather and beef from Brazil, according to wildlife charities, who claim it is ‘having a heavy impact’ on rainforest wildfires. 

Brazil, home to two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest, is one of the riskiest countries from which the UK imports key agricultural commodities, say the WWF and RSPB. 

In a new report the WWF say fires are being set deliberately to make room for agriculture to feed growing demand from places like the UK.

The latest figures suggest that 2,248 fire outbreaks were detected in the Amazon biome for the month of June – the highest number for 13 years.   

Brazil represents 13.9 per cent of the UK overseas land footprint, according to a new report, equal to about 800,000 hectares or five times the area of Greater London.   

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