Amazon: Deforestation level in 2021 reaches decade high

Devastation of green areas shows the worst rates in ten years. Among the most destructive states, Pará sits at the top ranking: 638 km² of torn down forest in August alone.

Caio Oliveira


On October 31, 2021 in Scotland, another United Nations Climate Change Conference, the so-called COP26 will take place. The annual meeting aims at monitoring and reviewing the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed by 197 countries, with the purpose of reducing the impact of human activity on the world climate. A month before the start of the global event, which will determine the guidances for the planet, the Amazon region presents gloomy numbers. Deforestation in the region reached its worst level in ten years.

According to data released in September, 1,606 km² of forest areas were destroyed in August alone. Comparatively, it is as if a green area equivalent to much more than a third of the territory of Cape Verde or that of the French Polynesia had been devastated in just one month. It is the same to say that a patch of forest equivalent to the lands of the entire French territory of Martinique, or the entire Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, were torn down in just 30 days.

According to Sistema de Alerta de Desmatamento (SAD) [Deforestation Alert System] of  Instituto do Homem e Meio Ambiente da Amazônia (Imazon) [Amazon Institute of Man and Environment], accumulated data since January 2021 was also the worst of the ten last years, with 7,715 km² of destroyed forest. In 2012, destruction reached 714 km² of forest, according to Imazon, and for the fifth time this year, in August, deforestation reached the most unfavorable scenario since 2012.

In this context, Pará has been at the top of the ranking among the states promoting the devastation of the Amazon forest since May. In Pará, 638 km² of green areas were destroyed in August alone – this area represents 40% of all devastation registered in the Legal Amazon. In another analogy, it is as if half of the city of Rio de Janeiro had been deforested in a single month.


Dida Sampaio


Larissa Amorim, a forestry engineer and researcher at Imazon, remarks that not only is the volume of devastation frightening, but also the areas where this phenomenon has been spreading reveal a fearful reality to us. “Deforestation, as a whole, is a chronic problem throughout the Legal Amazon. However, the State of Pará has been progressively and negatively projecting itself above others. Besides the ascertainment of August 2021 having been the worst in the last ten years, another worrying fact is that deforestation is also advancing towards and inward the protected areas of the State”, comments Larissa. “All this  makes the deforestation process even more aggravating, as we are talking about protected territories, destined for conservation”, warns Larissa.


Larissa Amorim is a forestry engineer (Divulgation)


The researcher explains that most of the figures computed in the last survey place Pará as the most critical state in the Legal Amazon, an area that corresponds to nearly 58.9% of the entire Brazilian territory. “Considering data from August 2021, five of the municipalities that deforested the most are located in Pará. Furthermore, most conservation units [with the greatest deforestation records] are also located in Pará – 6 out of 10. And five of the ten indigenous lands that have the highest levels of deforestation are also located in Pará”, enumerates Larissa.


Data show that 90% of the deforested area corresponds to pasture. So, cattle raising occupies these areas, and a large part of this deforestation is illegal" - Paulo Barreto, Paulo Barreto forestry engineer.


Altamira is fourth in the general ranking of deforestation in August in the Amazon, and first place in Pará, with 66 km² of forest areas destroyed in the municipality in that month. In descending order, are São Félix do Xingu and Pacajá, both with 50 km² devastated, in addition to Itaituba (47 km²) and Portel (41 km²). All these municipalities are on a list drawn up by the Ministry of the Environment (MMA), which selects priority municipalities for preventive actions, and deforestation monitoring and control in the Amazon Biome.


(Edu Andrade / FotoPress AE)


“This list is regularly updated and disseminated. Another interesting fact is that, considering all these municipalities encompassed by the list [52 currently], 37% are located in the State of Pará. It is an evidence that a more effective control would be necessary, but unfortunately, some of these municipalities are recurrently appearing in our ranking ”, warns Larissa Amorim, who hopes that the data collected by means of employed technology and research can be used to reverse these numbers that devastate our state. “It is necessary to implement new public policies to complement those that already exist and guarantee the conservation of these territories, and above all, it is necessary to increase inspection in these areas, and beyond inspection, punishment should ensue, criminalizing the guilty ones, impose embargo on these areas. Unfortunately, this is not happening the way we need it to be”, she laments.


Disorderly exploration depletes Amazon


Paulo Barreto, one of the founders of Imazon, advocates that the main problem affecting the region is the clearing of more green areas of forest for the purpose of a very poorly planned animal production, which, unlike other agricultural initiatives, continues to prioritize the devastation of other huge areas, instead of developing better use of territories which have already been deforested. “Data show that 90% of the deforested area corresponds to pasture. So, cattle raising occupies these areas, and a large part of this deforestation is illegal. There is also a distortion that encourages deforestation, called grilagem [land grabbing, occupation of public land]. Besides the existence of a lot of poorly used deforested land, which could increase production in this area, there is a distorted incentive by public policies that encourages people to occupy the land, to deforest in order to show that they effectively possess it. Even though it is illegal, people go for it", explains the forestry engineer, who has accumulated over thirty years of research on the subject.

Paulo-Barreto-is-a-forestry-engineer-Márcio Lázaro-=Divulgation-Amazon-Deforestation-level-in-2021-reaches-decade-high.png
Paulo Barreto is a forestry engineer (Márcio Lázaro / Divulgation)


Barreto explains that nowadays there is still a strong feeling of impunity among illegal deforesters. He assures that, due to a more flexible legislation in force, deforesters are becoming more audacious in what concerns occupations in territories protected by law. “They really believe in the power of quantity – if  a lot of people do ‘it’ at the same time, it creates political pressure for them to reach their goals. This way, they encourage more and more people to do the same at the same time. This is a very well-conducted manoeuvre, with the characteristics of organized crime”, ponders Paulo Barreto.

For the researcher, the numbers registered by Imazon represent a regrettable setback in national environmental policy, mainly, because the government knows how to face this problem effectively. “From 2005 to 2012, deforestation rate in Brazil was reduced by 83%. So, the country already knows how to manage it”, reinforces Barreto, who suggests actions to be taken. “There has to be inspection, creation of protected areas in these territories that are currently ‘public lands’, thus, incentivating the grileiros [land grabbers] to keep on trying to occupy them, and, restrict credit – stop granting credit to those who are deforesting illegally. This  has worked really well before. However, it is not enough to take these actions just once. There has to be discipline over time”, suggests the researcher.


Santarém (Tarso Sarraf / O Liberal)


Waging the same fight to reduce deforestation, indigenous activist and leader Alessandra Korap Munduruku acts on a different front. She lives in Praia do Índio village, a territory on the outskirts of Itaituba – the eighth municipality with the highest deforestation rate in the Brazilian Legal Amazon. Being in the “eye of the hurricane”, she was unable to remain idly observing, while destruction was underway.

She decided to go out and fight, becoming one of the most vigorous voices in the movement raising concern and denouncing illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Southwest of Pará. All this work brought her, recognition. In October 2020, she received one of the most important awards for human rights defenders worldwide, the Robert F. Kennedy prize, for defending the Munduruku territory and above all, for combating illegal deforestation by loggers and the invasion of indigenous lands for the purpose of by mining practices.


This is affecting our lives. Affecting those who live in São Paulo, or on the other side of the ocean. Not just indigenous peoples, but the entire planet" - Alessandra Korap Munduruku, indigenous activist and leader.


“There is a common discourse that the Amazon needs development, and farmers, soybean growers, dam builders and miners are taking advantage of this to deforest. Take the case of indigenous territories, being invaded by miners, loggers, and there is no official organ, able to remove them”, ponders Alessandra. The Munduruku leadership laments the lack of inspection. “We, indigenous people, are preserving, we play our role, but it is up to the government to do its part. We walk and see the farms growing, the rivers getting dirtier, more invaders entering indigenous territories, which should be preserved, but the Indians themselves have to protect them”.

Alessandra reinforces: what happens in the Amazon must be seen as a global problem. “This is affecting our lives. Affecting those who live in São Paulo, or on the other side of the ocean. Not just indigenous peoples, but the entire planet. And we are always acting towards preservation. But we do not give up: we, Munduruku women and men, will never give up fighting, preserving and defending our territory”.


The challenge to improve rates in Pará: state has the worst figures


The world’s attention is focused on the state where Mauro O’de Almeida, the Secretary of Environment of Pará state, lives and works. He talks about the challenge to manage actions against the deforestation in a geographic territory which has alarming rates. He highlights that those problems are not new and are caused by many peculiarities. “In fact, Pará state has been the first in the deforestation ranking for 15 years, and there are many reasons for that. One of the major ones is the fact that Pará is a laboratory of economic activities like no other state. There is mining, livestock and agriculture practices, large electricity projects, also transportation projects, railroads, highways. So, no other state in the Legal Amazon has that economic, social and infrastructure diversity.”, reflects O’de Almeida. 


(Tarso Sarraf / O Liberal)


For the secretary, it is impossible to talk about sustainability growth without considering the human aspect related to the Amazon. The lack of job opportunities and low income faced by the local people are factors which really contribute to the unplanned exploitation of the natural resources, “We need to increase the level of HDI (Human Development Index) in Pará. We will only be able to change the deforestation reality if we promote that social changing.”

Mauro O’de Almeida draws an analogy to explain that solution proposal. “One could argue ‘oh, but we have already managed to get deforestation at lower levels’. Indeed, we can reduce it, but we cannot keep it reducing. It is like the urban violence: when there is repression, it decreases. However, It cannot be kept low; it comes to debate, then, it rockets again. In order to have a real change, we also need a social transformation.”

One of the good examples to change the reality of deforestation mentioned by the secretary is the Plano Estadual Amazônia Agora [State Plan Amazon Now] – a platform designed to be a model of economic and social development, based on valuing environmental assets in Pará. The plan aims to preserve the forest while it improves the production chains efficiency and also the enhancement of social conditions in the rural area. Within a year, the state plan released a bold goal: Bringing Pará state to the climate neutrality before 2036. 


Data from the Deforestation Alert System August 2021 (Imazon), show how Pará always stands out in the most critical scenarios of advance against the forest in the Brazilian Legal Amazon (states of Amazonas, Roraima, Rondônia, Pará, Amapá, Acre, Tocantins, Mato Grosso and significant part of Maranhão) | Source: Imazon


The secretary of environmental policy of Pará also agrees that formalizing the title deeds is one of the main actions against devastation, “We started to deliver more than 400 land titles and environmental papers, here – one of the worst regions regarding deforestation rates. When we do that, we manage to identify people. Because many times we don’t know how, by whom nor what for the deforestation was done. But when we provide the title deeds, CPF or CNPJ [Brazilian documents for natural and juridical person] for that person in that region,  we can monitor them.”, says O’de Almeida.

Another evidence that the world is aware about what is happening in the Amazon was shown last September, when the Secretary of Pará was in the Global Citizen Live, in New York, an international event, attended by artists, celebrities and global leaders. Its goal was to create a movement to discuss ideas to prevent the climate changings. In the main event – a concert at Central Park – O’de Almeida committed to put efforts on creating at least three new environmental preservation areas in Pará; expanding in 25% the sustainable forest management in the state; and setting up adaptation plans to global warming, aiming to eradicate the liquid emissions before 2050.



In the beginning of October, the Environment office of Pará disclosed that, in the regions under the state administration, the deforestation area reduced from 162,73 km² (last September) to 116,89 km², in the same period in 2021, a 28% drop. In the areas under the federal government administration, the total amount of deforestation last September was equivalent to 357,20 km², while during the same month in 2021, the forest green area destruction summed up 249,29 km², a reduction by 30%.

“We still have a long way to go until we comply with the purpose of stabilization, but if we don’t commit to those international initiatives, if we isolate ourselves, it is much worse for us. First, it is necessary to have transparency, governance, reliability, credibility and commitment. Thus, we attract investments and improve the infrastructure and can make a difference.”, analyzes O’de Almeida.