RIO DE JANEIRO, May 13, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon in April fell 68 percent from last year, according to figures released Friday, welcome news for President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as he tries to reverse surging environmental destruction.
Satellite monitoring detected 329 square kilometers (127 square miles) of forest cover destroyed in Brazil's share of the world's biggest rainforest last month, down sharply from a record 1,026 square kilometers in April 2022, according to the national space agency's DETER surveillance program.
It was the biggest drop yet under veteran leftist Lula, who took office in January vowing to fight for zero illegal deforestation after a surge in clear-cutting and fires under his far-right predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro.
The numbers were less encouraging for the Cerrado, a fragile, biodiverse tropical savanna south of the Amazon, where satellites identified 782 square kilometers of destruction last month, up more than 30 percent from April 2022.
"The numbers show the situation in the Cerrado is critical, although we have positive signs in the Amazon," said Daniel Silva, a conservation specialist at environmental group WWF's Brazil office.
"In the Amazon, there's been a reduction in deforestation of 40 percent so far this year. But we need to see if it consolidates into a trend," he told AFP.
The critical season for deforestation in the Amazon typically runs from around July to October, when loggers, ranchers, farmers and land-grabbers take advantage of drier weather to clear and torch forest land.
With its hundreds of billions of carbon-absorbing trees, the Amazon is a critical buffer against climate change.
But studies show its carbon uptake is in decline amid rising deforestation -- driven, in agricultural powerhouse Brazil, mainly by cattle ranching and farming.
Under Bolsonaro, average annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased by 75 percent versus the previous decade.
Lula and respected Environment Minister Marina Silva have moved to rebuild Brazil's environmental agencies and revive the internationally financed Amazon Fund to protect the rainforest.
Lula has won diplomatic victories recently with pledges of more than $100 million from Britain for the fund and one of $500 million from the United States -- though the latter faces an uphill battle clearing Congress.