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Why is Brazil's Amazon rainforest burning?

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STORY: Why is the Amazon rainforest burning?

The number of fires burning in Brazil's rainforest hit a 15-year high in June.

Meanwhile the rate of deforestation has also surged to record levels.

(Manoela Machado, Wildfire and Deforestation researcher at Oxford University) "We have a combination of a drier climate with more motivation to deforest. So this is extremely bad news.”

Here are some factors driving destruction of the world's largest rainforest.

Unlike wildfires in Europe or the United States, fires do not occur naturally in the humid, tropical Amazon rainforest.

Instead, farmers cut down the forests and set trees on fire to clear land.

August and September are typically the height of dry season in the Amazon. That's when fires become harder to contain and can run out of control.

But climate change is leading to higher temperatures and drier conditions throughout the year, making fires more frequent and severe.

Forest fires have worsened since 2019, when right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office and sought to weaken environmental protections.

Bolsonaro says protected areas of the Amazon should be opened to mining and farming to fight poverty.

Experts say that under his government, farmers, ranchers and land grabbers feel emboldened to destroy the forest without punishment.

Andre Freitas is Greenpeace Amazon coordinator.

"In the last year of the Bolsonaro’s government, people and criminals have been taking advantage on these lands, and they have exploited the land. And all that is a significant loss for the population, for the country. It is also a very bad contribution to the climate crisis.”

Between August 2020 and July 2021, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon soared 22% to its highest level since 2006.

More than 5,000 square miles of forest were cleared.

That's according to the government's annual report.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly denied an uptick in fires under his presidency, despite government data.

"The Amazon is equivalent to Western Europe. How are we supposed to take care of all this? And one more thing, if every year there were as much deforestation as the media says, the whole Amazon would already be a desert. I would like to agree with the article here, but it is not true."

Are the Amazon fires contributing to climate change? Yes.

The destruction of old-growth trees in the Amazon releases a lot of climate-warming carbon dioxide.

Scientists say sharply reducing deforestation is important for fighting climate change, as destruction of tropical rainforests is responsible for about 9% of human-caused CO2 emissions.

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