Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon falls 22% in 2023

  • Deforestation in Earth’s largest rainforest decreased by 22% in the year ending July 31, 2023, according to data released on Thursday by Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE).
  • INPE’s analysis of satellite imagery found that forest clearing in the Brazilian Amazon totaled 9,001 square kilometers, an area approximately the size of Puerto Rico.
  • INPE’s estimate is preliminary. Final data for the “deforestation year” is expected to come out in the second quarter of 2024.
  • Nevertheless, the data is seen as a sign that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s efforts to curb deforestation is having an effect after a period of rising forest loss under Jair Bolsonaro.

Deforestation in Earth’s largest rainforest decreased by 22% in the year ending July 31, 2023, according to data released on Thursday by Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE).

The analysis of satellite imagery by INPE revealed that forest clearing in the Brazilian Amazon totaled 9,001 square kilometers, an area approximately the size of Puerto Rico. This marks the first time annual deforestation in the Amazon has fallen below 10,000 square kilometers since 2018.

Annual deforestation in the "legal Amazon" since 2008 by state, according to INPE's PRODES system. Note: 2023 data is preliminary.
Annual deforestation in the “legal Amazon” since 2008 by state, according to INPE’s PRODES system. Note: 2023 data is preliminary.

This decrease is seen as a sign that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s efforts to curb deforestation are taking effect, following a significant increase in forest loss during the tenure of his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro.

Lula has reinstated programs to monitor and control deforestation, restarted conservation initiatives, forged alliances with other tropical forest nations, and committed Brazil to eliminating illegal deforestation by 2030.

Annual deforestation in the  Brazilian Amazon since 2002 under each presidential administration, according to INPE's PRODES system. Note: Temer took office on 31 Aug 2016 replacing Rousseff, while other presidents started their terms Jan 1. Also 2023 data is preliminary.
Annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon since 2002 under each presidential administration, according to INPE’s PRODES system. Note: Temer took office on 31 Aug 2016 replacing Rousseff, while other presidents started their terms Jan 1. Also 2023 data is preliminary.

Deforestation in the Amazon nevertheless remains significantly higher than levels seen in the early to mid-2010s. Additionally, a vast swathe of the Amazon is currently experiencing a severe drought, which scientists attribute to the combined effects of climate change and historical deforestation in the region.

Deforestation concentrated

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was concentrated in three states which in recent years have accounted for the bulk of agricultural expansion in the region: Pará (36.4%), Mato Grosso (23.2%), and Amazonas (17.3%). Of those states, only Mato Grosso experienced a rise in deforestation relative to 2022.

60% of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon in 2023 occurred in Pará and Mato Grosso, states that typically led Brazil in deforestation. 17% took place in Amazonas, which accounts for a growing share of Amazon forest destruction.
60% of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon in 2023 occurred in Pará and Mato Grosso, states that typically led Brazil in deforestation. 17% took place in Amazonas, which accounts for a growing share of Amazon forest destruction.
Pará and Mato Grosso have accounted for the bulk of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon since 2002.
Pará and Mato Grosso have accounted for the bulk of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon since 2002.

Devastating drought

The decline in deforestation was a bit of welcome good news for conservationists in a year when the Amazon is experiencing one of the worst droughts on record.

The drought has stranded communities, brought river transportation to a standstill, and killed untold numbers of animals, including 154 dolphins in Lake Tefé when temperatures topped 39°C (102°F).

Scientists have long warned that rising temperatures resulting from climate change, forest degradation, and deforestation will increase the risk of drought across the Amazon. Drought in the region tends to be particularly acute during El Niño events.

Planet satellite image of the Anavilhanas Archipelago in the Rio Negro in Brazil in October 2022 and October 2023. Courtesy of Planet
Planet satellite image of the Anavilhanas Archipelago in the Rio Negro in Brazil in October 2022 and October 2023. Courtesy of Planet

Downward deforestation trend continuing

On Friday, INPE provided an update on data from its near-real-time deforestation detection system (DETER) which showed that forest clearing in the Amazon has continued to plunge since the end of the July. According to DETER, the area deforested in October 2023 amounted to 434 square kilometers, a 52% drop from last October.

Accumulated deforestation detected by DETER for the year through the end of October stands at 4,775 square kilometers, down 50% relative to the same period last year.

INPE’s figures are in line with data from Imazon, a Brazilian NGO that independently tracks deforestation.

Deforestation alert data from INPE's DETER system for Jan 1-Oct 30 since 2009.
Deforestation alert data from INPE’s DETER system for Jan 1-Oct 30 since 2009.
Monthly and 12-month- moving average data for deforestation alert data from Imazon's SAD system and INPE's DETER system. Imazon is a Brazilian NGO that independently monitors deforestation.
Monthly and 12-month- moving average data for deforestation alert data from Imazon’s SAD system and INPE’s DETER system. Imazon is a Brazilian NGO that independently monitors deforestation.
Annual deforestation in the legal Amazon since 1988, according to INPE's PRODES system. Note: 2023 data is preliminary.
Annual deforestation in the legal Amazon since 1988, according to INPE’s PRODES system. Note: 2023 data is preliminary.