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A leap into deforestation in the world’s most biodiverse savannah alarms Brazilian scientists

SAO PAULO, Jan.3 (Reuters) – Last year, deforestation hit its highest level since 2015 in Brazil’s Cerrado, prompting scientists on Monday to sound the alarm over the state of the world’s richest savannah. species of the world and a major carbon sink that helps keep off climate change.

The Cerrado, one of the largest savannahs in the world spread across several Brazilian states, is often referred to as an “upside down forest” because of the deep roots that its plants sink into the ground to survive seasonal droughts and droughts. fires.

The destruction of these trees, herbs and other plants in the Cerrado is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil, although it is much less densely forested than the more famous Amazon rainforest that it borders.

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Deforestation and other clearing of native vegetation in the Cerrado increased by 8% to 8,531 square kilometers in the 12 months through July, Brazil’s official period for measuring deforestation, according to the National Space Research Agency. Inpe. This is more than 10 times the area of ​​New York City, which is 783.84 km².

“This is extremely worrying,” said Mercedes Bustamante, an environmentalist at the University of Brasilia.

Bustamante also criticized the government for its lack of transparency in announcing deforestation data on New Year’s Eve.

The additional destruction is of particular concern, say scientists, when one considers that around half of Cerrado has been destroyed since the 1970s, mainly for agriculture and ranching.

“You transform thousands of square kilometers every year,” said Manuel Ferreira, a geographer at the Federal University of Goias.

“Few other places on earth have seen such a rapid transformation.”

Ferreira said new plant and animal species are regularly discovered in the Cerrado and many are likely eradicated before they can be studied.

After peaking in the early 2000s, deforestation in Cerrado has accelerated again since right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019, calling for more agriculture and development in sensitive ecosystems.

Bustamante and other scientists accuse Bolsonaro of promoting deforestation with his pro-development rhetoric and rolling back environmental law enforcement.

Bolsonaro’s office did not immediately respond to the request for comment. He has previously defended his policies as a way to lift the interior of the country out of poverty and pointed out that Brazil has preserved much more of its territory than either Europe or the United States.

“Deforestation is the most naked and crude indicator of this government’s terrible environmental policy,” said Ane Alencar, scientific director of the nonprofit Amazonian Environmental Research Institute.

(This story corrects the title and text to reflect that this is not the world’s largest savannah)

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Reporting by Jake Spring; edited by Grant McCool

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.