It's a promising start.

New Low

Brazil has seen an impressive 33.6 percent drop in deforestation in the Amazon rainforest during the first six months of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's time in office, The Associated Press reports, the lowest levels since 2019.

This about-face follows a four-year period of heightened deforestation under the country's far-right, former President Jair Bolsonaro, who slashed environmental protections and oversaw the worst destruction the Amazon has seen in fifteen years.

Now, according to satellite data from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, 'only' around 1,000 square miles of forest was cleared in the first half of 2023, compared to over 1,500 square miles — about the size of Rhode Island, the AP notes — over the same period in 2022.

It's a show of good faith from Lula, who has vowed to eliminate deforestation by 2030. But his administration's hardest days with regard to that lofty mission are still ahead.

"It's very positive, but we continue to have very high levels of deforestation," Daniel Silva, an analyst at the World Wildlife Foundation Brazil, told Reuters.

A Couple Caveats

Brazil's environmental agency known as Ibama was gutted during Bolsonaro's tenure and currently boasts its lowest number of enforcement agents in 24 years, according to the AP.

Jair Schmitt, environmental protection director of Ibama, told the AP that the "bottom line" is "prioritizing environmental law enforcement," but that will prove tricky with just around 700 agents to cover the world's largest forest.

Further still, while deforestation numbers have dropped, the number of fires this June has hit a recent record high of over 3,000, though according to Schmitt, this is due to the amount of deforestation last year. A looming drought, however, threatens to weaken the forest, especially against future fires.

Economic development will also be key to sustaining the livelihoods of the indigenous population in the region, many of whom serve as essential wards of the rainforest. To this end, Lula has launched grant programs for indigenous families and has recognized more indigenous lands.

The Climate Question

If Brazil continues on this trajectory, it could be a rare glimmer of hope in humanity's efforts to mitigate climate change.

Rivaling the size of Australia, the Amazon rainforest is the world's largest carbon sponge, soaking up greenhouse gases en masse, while also converting quite a bit of it to oxygen.

By some estimates, the Amazon stores over 150 billion metric tons of CO2 — and it'd be in everyone's best interest if most of that wasn't released into the atmosphere.

More on the environment: UN Approves Japan's Plan to Dump Radioactive Water Into Ocean

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