In 37 years, the Amazon has lost 12% of its forest

Farming advances and now occupies 15% of the biome, which has also lost water surface area and non-forest natural cover

September 5, 2022 - According to the most recent MapBiomas collection, which updated data on land use and land cover from 1985 to 2021, the Amazon has lost 12% of its forest area in 37 years. This represents a net loss of forest of 44 Mha, equivalent to ten times the area of the entire state of Rio de Janeiro. Until last year, the forest area occupied 78.7% of the biome.

MapBiomas also evaluated what happened to the deforested areas: between 1985 and 2021, 44.5 Mha of native vegetation - including forest, savanna and grassland formations, wetlands and mangroves - were converted for farming (agriculture and cattle ranching). In 2021 this activity would occupy 15% of the biome, constituting its main vector of deforestation. In the last 37 years, pastures have tripled, occupying 13% of the biome. Of all the nine Amazon states, the most affected was Pará: 35.2% of the state's forests were converted into areas for agriculture or pasture.

"The current economic development model, based on the uncontrolled conversion of areas of natural vegetation, confronts Brazil with serious problems in the current scenario of climate change," explains Tasso Azevedo, coordinator of MapBiomas. "It's not just a matter of implementing command and control actions: Brazil needs public policies and business models that make the conservation of biomes compatible with the country's development while cooperating with the tackling of the climate crisis", he points out.

Besides the loss of native vegetation, the Amazon is also losing water. In 20 years, the Amazon has lost 1.7 Mha of water surface, a 14.5% decrease. The most affected state was Roraima: in 25 years 317,000 ha were lost - a 53% reduction. Amazonas and Pará, where large hydrographic basins are located, such as those of the Amazonas and Tapajós rivers, concentrate 84.2% of the entire water surface of the biome.

Another point of attention is the advance of mining. In 2021, this activity accounted for three out of every four hectares (74%) mapped as mining in the Amazon. Of the little more than 217 thousand hectares of mined area in the biome, 64% were mapped in the state of Pará. This state is also the one that registered the largest urban expansion in the last 37 years. In the whole Amazon, urban areas continue to expand and already occupied 339 thousand ha last year.

MapBiomas also evaluated the changes in the non-forest natural cover in the Amazon. In 2021, 3.7% of the biome (15.7 Mha) were non-forest formations, and another 2.7% were water bodies (11.4 Mha). The survey also shows that only 1% of the natural vegetation cover in the Amazon in 2021 was savanna or mangrove formation. "These ecosystems are relevant from the biological, social and economic point of view and are under strong anthropic pressure, which adds to the growing risks imposed by the climate crisis. They are also outside the monitoring radar. MapBiomas allowed us to understand the extent and changes in these areas", reinforces Carlos Souza Jr., the scientist who coordinates the mapping of the Amazon biome.

Amazonas, Pará and Mato Grosso, the three largest states in the biome, are the ones with the largest forest area. Together they account for 81% of the Amazon forests. The savannah formations, on the other hand, will occupy 2 Mha in 2021, being concentrated mainly in the states of Mato Grosso, Pará and Roraima, which together hold 87% of the total. Between 1985 and 2021, approximately 1 Mha of savannah was converted to agricultural use.

Slightly more than half (54.3%) of the remaining forest areas are in legally protected areas, such as Indigenous Lands and Conservation Units (except for APAs) - a percentage similar to that of the grassland formations that are inside protected areas (58.7%). When considering all the native vegetation of the biome, forest or not, it is noted that 4% (12.8 Mha) were secondary vegetation in 2020, i.e., have already been deforested at least once. "The recent records of deforestation and fires prove that the Amazon is not protected. It is important to emphasize that it is not only deforestation: part of the remaining forest is degraded. This process brings the forest closer to the tipping point beyond which it collapses", alerts Luis Oliveira Jr.