An aerial photo taken on 24 October 2015 shows forest fires in the Arariboia indigenous lands in Brazil, 'one of the biggest forest fires ever registered' within such a territory, home to 12,000 of the Guajajara people. Photo: Greenpeace

By Jan Rocha in Sao Paulo
14 January 2016

(Climate News Network) – Almost a quarter of a million forest fires were detected in Brazil last year – and the main cause of a huge increase is being attributed to climate change that brought about a year-long drought in much of the country.

Satellite data revealed a 27.5% increase in forest fires in 2015 compared with the previous year. The total number was 235,629, almost as high as the record of 249,291 in 2010.

Dr Alberto Setzer, co-ordinator of the Nucleus for Forest Fires at INPE − Brazil’s national space research institute, which monitors deforestation − says: “This (2015) was a year with less rain, and hotter than the historic average, especially in central Brazil, in the south of the Amazon region and in parts of the Northeast. Some regions registered temperatures 4°C above the average.”

These conditions favour the spread of fires, but Dr Setzer emphasises that it was not spontaneous combustion that caused the fires. “It was human activity, whether carelessness or deliberate,” he says.

The increase in forest fires contributed to the general 16% increase in deforestation registered in 2015. And these figures present a stark contrast to Brazil’s commitment at the COP21 climate change conference in Paris last month to reduce carbon emissions by 43% by 2030.

To achieve this, the government promised it would ensure zero illegal deforestation. Yet a lot of deforestation is technically legal, thanks to changes to the country’s Forest Code.

Also in jarring contrast to the government’s Paris commitment are two bills now under debate in congress, which, if made law, will greatly increase “legal” deforestation.

One will overturn the ban on infrastructure projects inside indigenous territories, with a payoff to the communities of 2% of the value of the project.

The other will streamline the environmental licensing system for major infrastructure projects, such as roads and dams. […]

If congress approves both these bills, and the president sanctions them, they will actively stimulate deforestation.

Last year’s fires occurred all over Brazil, but most of them were in the greater Amazon region, where three of the largest states, Pará, Mato Grosso, and Maranhão, accounted for over 100,000 fires.

In Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, a dense pall of smoke from forest fires covered the city for most of the month of October, causing a big rise in respiratory problems among the population. Record temperatures of almost 40°C were also registered in October, the highest since records began 90 years ago. [more]

Brazil inflames forest fires with pro-deforestation laws



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