Brazil confirms Amazon deforestation accelerated in 2013

The destruction of the world’s largest rainforest sped up last year with a 29 percent spike in deforestation, according to the Brazilian government. Specifically, 5,891 square km (3,360 square miles) of forest were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon, an area half the size of Puerto Rico.

Fighting the destruction of the Amazon is considered crucial for reducing global warming because deforestation worldwide accounts for 15 percent of annual emissions of heat-trapping gases, more than the entire transportation sector. Besides being a giant carbon sink, the Amazon is a biodiversity sanctuary.

The largest increases in deforestation were seen in the states of Para and Mato Grosso, where the bulk of Brazil’s agricultural expansion is taking place. Other reasons for the rebound in deforestation include illegal logging and the invasion of public lands adjacent to big infrastructure projects in the Amazon, such as roads and hydroelectric dams.

Despite the increase in 2013, the cleared area is still the second-lowest annual figure since the Brazilian government began tracking deforestation in 2004, when almost 30,000 square km (11,580 square miles) of forest were lost.

The Brazilian government frequently launches police operations to fight illegal loggers in the forest, but environmentalists say more is needed.