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A view of a tract of burnt Amazon jungle next to the Transamazonica national highway, in Labrea, Amazonas state, Brazil, Sept. 2.BRUNO KELLY/Reuters

Detected deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose for the second straight month compared to last year, ending a streak of encouraging data at a moment when the government has promised to curb illegal logging.

Satellite alerts of deforestation in October corresponded to 877 square kilometres (339 square miles), the highest indicator for the month in five years and 4.9% more than for the same month in 2020, according to data from the Brazilian space agency’s Deter monitoring system that were released on Friday. September registered 2.3% more deforestation than the same month last year.

That data is considered a leading indicator for complete calculations released near yearend from the more accurate system, Prodes, which is based on clearer images, but which generally tracks with the Deter data.

The increases follow two months of sharp decreases that had prompted enthusiasm from officials in the government of President Jair Bolsonaro. Environmental groups warned at the time it was too early to consider that data a trend.

The new data comes at a moment Brazil’s government has been trying to improve its reputation on environmental issues. At the UN climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, Environment Minister Joaquim Leite announced on Wednesday a target of zero illegal logging by 2028 – pushing up the goal of 2030 that Bolsonaro presented at the White House-led climate summit in April.

“I haven’t seen these numbers, I heard they came out today, but my concentration is here in (COP26) negotiations, " Leite told reporters during a news conference in Glasgow on Friday. “Deforestation is a Brazilian challenge and we are not running away from that,” he said .

At the United Nations in September, Bolsonaro credited his administration’s redoubled efforts for the plunge of alerts the prior month. But the accumulated deforestation in 2021 has been essentially flat compared to last year, according to the preliminary data.

Before Bolsonaro took office in 2019, the Brazilian Amazon hadn’t recorded a single year with more than 10,000 square kilometres of deforestation in over a decade. Between 2009 and 2018, the average per year was 6,500 square kilometres. It averaged 10,500 square kilometres in the first two full years of Bolsonaro’s term.

Bolsonaro has raised concerns among environmentalists by calling for development within the Amazon region and dismissing global complaints about its destruction as a plot to hold back the nation’s agribusiness. His administration also has defanged environmental authorities and backed legislative measures to loosen land protections, emboldening land grabbers.

“The data from Deter is a reminder that the same Brazil that circulates in the corridors and halls of COP26, in Glasgow, is the same where land grabbers, illegal loggers and miners have a government license to destroy the forest,” the Climate Observatory, a network of environmental groups, said in a statement.

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