Deforestation hit a peak in 2004 but has fallen thanks to government action and the impact of the global financial crisis.
Brazil on December 1 hailed the lowest levels of Amazon rainforest deforestation in more than two decades, although the rate of destruction was higher than expected.
Between August 2009 and July 2010 about 6,451 square kilometres of forest were razed in Brazil's Amazon, an area around four times the size of the southern metropolis of Sao Paulo.
Brazil's Environment Minister, Izabella Teixeira, described the numbers as “fantastic”.
“This is the lowest level of deforestation in the history of Amazonia,” said Teixeira, who is tipped to keep her position under Brazil's incoming President Dilma Rousseff who takes office on January 1.
While current President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Rousseff, are not attending the U.N. climate change summit in Cancun, the timing of the announcement is a clear attempt to put Brazil's achievements in cutting destruction and carbon emissions high on the conference's agenda.
Tracked by satellite
Brazil's government has been using satellites to track illegal loggers operating in the jungle since 1988.
Deforestation hit a peak in 2004, when about 27,000 sq.km of forest were destroyed but since then the numbers have fallen — the result of a variety of factors including increased government repression and the impact of the global financial crisis.
The latest decline follows a reduction of more than 40 per cent between 2008 and 2009, when about 7,600 sq.km of Amazon rainforest were lost, and brings Brazil closer to its goal of reducing deforestation by 80 per cent by 2020. To hit that target destruction would have to fall to about 3,500 sq.km.
Gilberto Camara, head of Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, said: “This is a promising figure, a reduction of 14 per cent compared to the previous year, when we already saw a significant drop.” But while government officials celebrated this week's figures, they had hoped for a greater reduction of about 20 per cent.
Attributed to new tactics
The lower-than-expected drop was attributed to new tactics by deforesters who have started cutting down smaller areas of forest to avoid detection.
On the eve of President Lula's announcement, Brazil's environment agency, Ibama, vowed that action would be taken if deforestation in Amazonas state had risen — it was the only state where tree-felling had gone up.
“Deforestation in [this] state cannot be allowed to rise,” warned Bruno Barbosa, head of Ibama's monitoring programme.
“All of the necessary measures to contain destruction of the forest will be taken.”— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010