Aug 31, 2022 - World

August fires in Brazil's Amazon rainforest hit new 12-year high

Smoke rising from a fire in the Amazon rainforest in the Brazilian state of Amazonas in September 2021.
Smoke rising from a fire in the Amazon rainforest in the Brazilian state of Amazonas in September 2021. Photo: Mauro Pimentel/AFP via Getty Images

Over 31,000 fires were detected in Brazil's portion of the Amazon rainforest this August, marking the highest number for the month since 2010, according to data from Brazil's space research institute, INPE.

Why it matters: The new fire data comes just weeks after Brazil's space agency published data showing deforestation in the Amazon hit a new record during the first half of 2022.

The Amazon — the world's largest tropical rainforest — is a bastion of biodiversity and a crucial climate change buffer that stores vast quantities of planet-warming carbon dioxide.

  • Research published earlier this year revealed most of the rainforest as likely struggling to recover from wildfires, droughts and human-caused disturbances and risk transforming into dry savannah.
  • A study from last year also found segments of the Amazon rainforest emitting more carbon dioxide than they could absorb because of accelerating rates of deforestation and climate shifts due to human-caused global warming.

By the numbers: INPE observed a total of 31,513 fire alerts through satellite monitoring in Brazil's Amazon in the first 30 days of August, blowing past the 30,900 blazes the institute detected in August 2019.

  • The August 2019 fires gripped the world's attention just months after President Jair Bolsonaro took office, prompting G7 nations to give Brazil a $20 million aid package.
  • The institute recorded 45,018 fires throughout Brazil's Amazon in August 2010 — the highest number for that month since INPE starting maintaining records in 1998.
  • INPE has detected 44,419 fires so far in 2022, though peak fire season for the region typically continues into September.

Yes, but: The data does not specify the severity of the fires, how they started or how many acres of rainforest have been destroyed by fires so far this year.

The big picture: Brazil is just weeks away from holding its October presidential election, with recent polls showing former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva leading incumbent Bolsonaro.

  • Deforestation of Brazil's Amazon has accelerated since the start of Bolsonaro's presidency in January 2019.
  • Bolsonaro campaigned in 2018 on opening up the rainforest to new economic ventures and reforming environmental policies meant to slow deforestation, including fines for illegal logging, hunting and fishing. He also cut the budget for the country's main environmental agency by 24% after assuming office.
  • Brazil joined more than 100 world leaders in a commitment to halt and reverse the deforestation of the world's forests by 2030.
  • Lula has proposed policies which attempt to balance protecting the Amazon with the interest of Brazil's agriculture industry, such as offering farm loans to spur soybeans and corn cultivation on underused pasture land, according to Reuters.

Go deeper: Devastating Pakistan floods likely have climate change ties

Go deeper