Deforestation in Brazil’s rainforest has jumped around 67% in the first seven months of the year, according to preliminary data from Brazil’s space research agency, which the government has attacked as misleading and harmful to the national interest.
The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) monitoring system registered destruction of 4,699 square kilometers (1,814 square miles) this year compared to 2,810 square kilometers in the previous period monitored, data on the agency’s website showed.
In July alone, 2,255 square kilometers of Amazon forest were lost, more than triple July 2018’s 597 square kilometers, according to INPE. That is the largest monthly deforestation registered by the agency in years and nearly the land mass of Luxembourg.
The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rain forest, a bulwark against global warming often called the “lungs of the earth” because of the vast amounts of carbon dioxide it soaks up and recycles into oxygen.
Brazil contains roughly 60% of the rain forest.
Environmentalists blame President Jair Bolsonaro’s rhetoric in favor of economic development in the Amazon for emboldening loggers, ranchers and informal miners since he assumed office in January.
But in his reaction, Bolsonaro has vehemently criticized the data from INPE and fired the head of the agency on Friday over what he called “lies” that hurt the country’s trade talks.
“News like this that does not match the truth causes great damage to the image of Brazil,”Bolsonaro said in a press conference last week.
The country’s space research agency, independent scientists and environmentalists, however, have all defended the data as accurate.
Fired INPE director Ricardo Galvao said he will continue to defend the figures as showing an “undeniable” spike in deforestation.
Tasso Azevedo, coordinator of geographic initiative MapBiomas, called the government criticism of the DETER data baseless, estimating its accuracy at more than 90%.
Sharp rises in the rapid-response data have consistently corresponded with an increase in the year-end figure, he added.