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Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest has soared 22 per cent in a year to the highest level since 2006, the government's annual report shows, undercutting President Jair Bolsonaro's assurances the country is curbing illegal logging.
Brazil's space research agency, INPE, recorded 13,235 square kilometres of deforestation in the world's largest rainforest in its PRODES satellite data, an area nearly 17 times the size of New York City. The official deforestation data covers a period from August 2020 through July 2021.
The surging destruction comes despite Bolsonaro's efforts to show his government is serious about protecting the Amazon, considered critical to staving off catastrophic climate change.
The far-right politician still calls for more mining and commercial farming in protected parts of the rainforest.
At the UN climate summit in Glasgow this month, COP26, Brazil's government brought forward a pledge to end illegal deforestation by two years to 2028, a target that would require aggressive annual reductions in the destruction.
The INPE report, dated October 27, shows deforestation rising in each of the past four cycles - a first for the data series since at least 2000.
"Notice the date on the INPE note. The government went to COP26 knowing the deforestation data and hid it," wrote Brazilian advocacy group the Climate Observatory on Twitter.
In the run-up to the summit, Brazil's government had touted preliminary monthly data pointing to a slight decline for the annual period as evidence it was getting deforestation under control. The more refined final data instead shows a dire picture.
"The numbers are still a challenge for us and we have to be more forceful in relation to these crimes," Environment Minister Joaquim Pereira Leite said on Thursday.
He told reporters the data did not reflect recently stepped-up enforcement against illegal deforestation, while conceding the government must do more to fight the destruction.
The data also casts doubt on Brazil's signing up to a global pledge with more than 100 other nations to eliminate deforestation worldwide by 2030, which was also announced during the summit.
Brazil, as home to the majority of the world's largest rainforest, was seen as crucial to that global pact. The Amazon's trees absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide that would otherwise warm the planet.