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Brazil Claims Success In Protecting Amazon Rainforest

The pace of destruction of the Brazilian Amazon is at its lowest rate in more than two decades, Brazil's National Institute for Space Research said in a new report released Tuesday.

According to government data, 4,656 square kilometers of the rainforest were deforested in the 12 months through July 2012. That represents a 27 percent decrease from the previous year, the data show. The numbers are the lowest since the agency began keeping track of the Amazon's deforestation in 1988.

"This is the only positive environmental news the planet had this year," Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said at a news conference in Brasilia. "We will create a model for environmental control in this country."

Marcio Astrini, the coordinator of the Amazon campaign for the environmental group Greenpeace, praised the figures.

"The decline in numbers in recent years makes it clear that ending deforestation ... is possible," he said in a statement. "The main strength of this effort comes from a society that no longer tolerates the destruction of forests. That's what pushes actions of both governments and markets ... to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain."

But, according to the BBC, critics say recent changes to the way the country protects the Amazon could hurt the efforts to fight deforestation.

"The latest data from the National Institute of Space Research relates to a period before a change in the code which environmentalists say eases the protection designed to prevent deforestation - a claim the government disputes," the BBC says.

Here's more from Bloomberg:

"Cattle ranchers, farmers, loggers and settlers have destroyed nearly 20 percent of the Amazon, government data shows. During Brazil's 1964-85 military rule, the government built roads and provided incentives for Brazilians to settle the vast forest hinterland.

"Brazil's target is to reduce Amazon deforestation by 80 percent from 2005 levels to 3,925 square kilometers annually by 2020."

More than 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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