BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazil’s government reported Thursday that annual destruction of its Amazon rainforest jumped by 28 percent after four straight years of declines, an increase activists said was linked to recent loosening of the nation’s environmental law meant to protect the jungle.
However, the destruction was still the second-lowest amount of jungle destroyed since Brazil began tracking deforestation in 1988.
The increase in deforestation came in the August 2012 through July 2013 period, the time when Brazil annually measures the destruction of the forest by studying satellite images. The country registered its lowest level of Amazon felling the year before.
The Amazon rainforest is considered one of the world’s most important natural defenses against global warming because of its capacity to absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide. About 75 percent of Brazil’s emissions come from rainforest clearing, as vegetation burns and felled trees rot.
That releases an estimated 400 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, making Brazil at least the sixth-biggest emitter of the gas.
Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said Thursday that the most recent figures show 2,256 square miles (5,843 square kilometers) of rainforest were felled. That’s compared to the 1,765 square miles (1,571 square kilometers) cleared the previous year.
Environmentalists blame the increase on a loosening of Brazil’s environmental laws. They also say that the government’s push for big infrastructure projects like dams, roads and railways is pushing deforestation.