Amazon Deforestation
If the Amazon goes back to the deforestation rates of 2007, its area will be reduced by 40 percent in two decades. Creative Commons

The devastation to the Amazon jungle increased by almost one-third in 2012, according to studies made by the Brazilian government. This development represents a dramatic reversal of what was formerly seen as solid progress made over the prior decade in the fight against deforestation of the largest tropical rainforest in the world. Data from the last 12 months collected by satellite showed that the damage in the Amazonian region expanded by 28 percent in comparison to the previous year. The damaged area added up to 5,843 square kilometers (2,255 square miles), roughly the size of the small U.S. state of Delaware.

The increase in deforestation was largely caused by the expansion of farming areas and the development of infrastructure projects, reported the Brazilian newspaper O Globo. “This is not being alarmist, it is real numbers,” said Márcio Astrini, a coordinator with the Greenpeace environmental activist organization These figures would reverse the trend of decreasing devastation, though the magnitude of the loss was not as devastating as in 2004, when 27,000 square kilometers (16,770 square miles) of Amazon terrain were destroyed.

Environmentalists also blame reforms the government made to a forest protection law last year. The bill, a long-standing demand of the country’s farming lobby, was passed in 2012 after several vetoes by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Among other measures, the reforms reduced the number of “protected areas” in farms and also allowed landowners to develop on certain forest-lands. According to the World Bank, agriculture accounts for 5 percent of the Brazilian GDP, making it one of the nation’s most important industries.

“If you sleep with the ruralist [agricultural] lobby, you wake up with deforestation,” quipped Amazon expert Paulo Adario of Greenpeace on Twitter. The Brazilian state deflected such criticism. Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said that the government is working to reverse this “crime,” but that the Rousseff administration was not to blame. “This swing [in deforestation trends] is not related to any federal government fund cuts for law enforcement,” she said in a press conference on Thursday, adding that 4,000 criminal actions have been taken against people responsible for deforestation over the past year.

The Brazilian government made a commitment back in 2009 to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 80 percent over the next decade. Brazil, in fact, exhibited the best improvement of any country in environmental matters, cutting its deforestation rate in half between 2000 and 2012 -- from approximately 40,000 square kilometers per year (24,800 square miles) to 20,000 square kilometers (12,400 square miles), according to the BBC. According to a study by the University of Maryland, the earth as a whole lost 2.3 million square kilometers of tree cover between 2000-12, largely due to logging, fire, disease or storms. However, the planet also gained 800,000 square kilometers of new forest, translating into a net loss of 1.5 million square kilometers, equal to the size of Mongolia.