Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell by more than 66 percent last month from July 2022, officials said Thursday, crediting President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's push to protect the world's biggest rainforest.
July typically marks the start of peak deforestation season, with the onset of drier weather in the Amazon -- making the drop all the more significant, as Brazil prepares to host a summit next week on the rainforest, a key buffer against climate change.
Environment Minister Marina Silva said the numbers showed the Lula government's deforestation crackdown was paying off, after years of surging destruction.
"Impunity for environmental crimes is no longer the rule. That means those responsible for those crimes now think twice before committing them," she told a news conference.
Satellite monitoring by the national space agency's DETER surveillance program detected 500 square kilometers (193 square miles) of forest cover destroyed in the Brazilian Amazon in July, officials said.
That was a five-year low, down sharply from 1,487 square kilometers in July 2022.
Since veteran leftist Lula took over from far-right agribusiness ally Jair Bolsonaro in January, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has fallen by 42.5 percent from the same period last year.
Lula campaigned on a pledge to reverse the dismantling of environmental agencies under Bolsonaro (2019-2022), who presided over an increase of more than 75 percent in average annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon versus the previous decade.
Lula is next week scheduled to host the first summit in 14 years of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, a group of eight countries that share the world's biggest rainforest.
"The fall in deforestation in the Amazon in July is an important sign that resuming command and control operations is working," Mariana Napolitano, head of conservation at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Brazil office, said in a statement.
However, there was bleaker news from the Cerrado, a fragile, biodiverse tropical savanna south of the Amazon, where July deforestation increased by 26 percent year-on-year, to 612 square kilometers.
Experts warn the Lula government's crackdown on environmental crime in the Amazon may be partly pushing it to the Cerrado, where deforestation over the past 12 months set a new record of 6,359 square kilometers.