Deforestation in the Amazon is leading to greater numbers of devastating fires, and much more needs to be done to protect the vital tropical rainforest, conservationists have said.

Between 1 August 2019 and July 31 2020, 9,125 sq km (3,500 square miles) of rainforest were cleared – a rise of 33 per cent compared to the same period in 2018/19.

The surge in deforestation under Jair Bolsonaro’s right-wing government has caused widespread alarm amid the worsening climate crisis, leading to calls for tougher action to tackle the habitat destruction and resultant fires.

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WWF Brazil has called on the country’s government to ban all deforestation for five years as a matter of emergency.

It has also called for strict enforcement and major penalties for environmental crimes and deforestation, as well as clear demarcation for indigenous peoples’ lands, restructuring of the environmental authorities and the creation of a coherent system of parks, national forests and extractive reserves.

Using data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the WWF noted that fires in the Brazilian Amazon in the first two days of August 2020 alone were 55 per cent higher than the same period last year – making the need to protect it increasingly urgent.

The organisation said “this follows a pattern, as July 2020 had the highest rate of fires in the Brazilian Amazon for the last 10 years.

Raul Valle, director of socio-environmental justice at WWF Brazil said: “It is a tragic record, which shows the complete lack of control over illegal activities in the region and indicates that the promise of the Bolsonaro government to dismantle socio-environmental policies, including mechanisms to combat deforestation, is being put into practice.”

The WWF’s UK operation has also said more needs to be done in Britain to help reduce the impact on the Amazon.

“The UK government has a unique opportunity to help protect the Amazon rainforest, by introducing new laws requiring companies to cut deforestation out of supply chains,” the organisation said.

WWF said the environment bill currently going through parliament should include a legal requirement for companies to identify environmental risks and tackle them – setting clear targets for when and how this would happen.

Sarah Hutchison, head of conservation programmes – Latin America at WWF UK said: “Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is leading to an increase in these devastating fires. Many forest areas are illegally cut, left to dry and then burned.

“The UK government can play their part in preventing this with new laws requiring companies to cut deforestation out of their supply chains. The Amazon is on the edge and the time to act is now.”

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