Deforestation in the Amazon destroyed an area bigger than Spain from 2000 to 2018, wiping out eight percent of the world’s biggest rainforest, according to a study released Tuesday.
The Amazon plays a vital role in curbing climate change, but the destruction of the rainforest has only accelerated in recent years, found the study by the Amazon Geo-Referenced Socio-Environmental Information Network (RAISG).
Since the turn of the millennium, 513,000 square kilometers (198,000 square miles) of the rainforest have been lost, according to the updated Amazon atlas produced by the organization, a consortium of groups from across the region.
It is RAISG’s first such atlas since 2012.
The consortium found that after hitting a high of 49,240 square kilometers of forest loss in 2003 — a record for this century — deforestation eased to a low of 17,674 square kilometers in 2010.
However, the destruction has since surged to startling levels.
“The Amazon is far more threatened than it was eight years ago," RAISG said in a statement.
“Deforestation has accelerated since 2012. The annual area lost tripled from 2015 to 2018," the study found.
“In 2018 alone, 31,269 square kilometers of forest were destroyed across the Amazon region, the worst annual deforestation since 2003."
The Amazon stretches across eight South American countries — Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Suriname and Guyana — and the territory of French Guiana.
Brazil, which holds most of the Amazon — about 62 percent — is also responsible for the worst deforestation, the study found: 425,051 square kilometers from 2000 to 2018.
The destruction in Brazil has only accelerated since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019, according to the government’s own figures.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon surged to a 12-year high of 11,088 square kilometers from July 2019 to July 2020, according to the Brazilian space agency, which analyzes satellite images to track forest loss.
That was a 9.5-percent increase from the previous year, when deforestation also hit a more than decade-long high.
Bolsonaro has come under fire from environmentalists and the international community for cutting funding for rainforest protection programs and pushing to open protected lands to agribusiness and mining.