Amazon deforestation at worst since 2008, Brazil says

An aerial view shows a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, September 10, 2019. (REUTERS)

The rate of deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest is at its highest level in more than a decade, according to a government report published on Monday.

Deforestation between August 2018 and July 2019 reached 9,762 square kilometers (3,769 square miles), a 30% increase over the previous year, Brazil's National Institute for Space Research said.

The area of deforestation is the largest recorded since 2008 and is about the size of the U.S. states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

The Brazilian state of Para accounted for nearly 40% of all deforestation during the 2018-19 period, but illegal logging increased markedly in the states of Roraima and Amazonas, officials said.

The report is preliminary, and its data will be confirmed next year.

"It is unacceptable that the Amazon is still being destroyed," the WWF conservation group said in a statement. It said deforestation will accelerate unless the Brazilian government takes robust action to prevent it.

Concern about the Amazon heightened after President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January. His administration has advocated the loosening of protections around natural reserves and indigenous lands as a way to promote economic development.

In July and August, fires in the Amazon spread at a pace unseen since 2010, before slowing in September. Farmers, developers and others often use fire to clear deforested land, for soy production or pastures.

Some European leaders have argued that the fires in the Amazon required a global response because of the ecosystem's critical role in draining heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The Brazilian government has accused France and Germany of infringing on its sovereignty and says it is taking steps to reduce deforestation. As fires raged a few months ago, Bolsonaro sent the military to help battle some blazes and banned most legal fires for land-clearing in the Amazon for two months.

Environment Minister Ricardo Salles will meet the Amazon region's governors Thursday to discuss efforts to contain deforestation. Salles says illegal mining, logging and land-grabbing cause most deforestation.

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