SAO PAULO (AP) — Deforestation in the Amazon destroyed an area almost as big as the United Kingdom between 2000 and 2010, environmental watchdog agencies said Tuesday.
The study prepared by the Amazon Information Network was released in Bolivia. It showed that close to 93,000 square miles (240,000 square kilometers) of Amazon rainforest were devastated in the 10-year period, the network said in a statement.
The main culprits are illegal logging, the construction of highways, mining, farming and ranching, the construction of hydroelectric dams and oil and gas drilling and exploration.
Sixty-three percent of the rainforest's 2.4 million square miles (6.1 million square kilometers) are in Brazil, and 80.4 percent of the 2000-2010 deforestation occurred in that country, the study said. Peru was responsible for 6.2 percent of the deforestation, and Colombia came in third with 5 percent.
The pace of Amazon deforestation in Brazil and the other countries, with the exception of Colombia and French Guiana, has slowed, the study said.
The network is composed of 11 environmental watchdog organizations in eight South American countries and French Guiana, all of which share the vast Amazon rainforest.
Last week, Brazil's Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said satellite imagery showed 1,798 square miles (4,656 square kilometers) of the country's Amazon region were deforested between August 2011 and July 2012. That's 27 percent less than the 2,478 square miles (6,418 square kilometers) deforested a year earlier.
Brazil's National Institute for Space Research said deforestation was at the lowest level since it started measuring the destruction of the rainforest in 1988.
The institute added that the latest figures show Brazil is close to its 2020 target of reducing deforestation by 80 percent from 1990 levels. Through July 2012, deforestation has dropped by 76.26 percent.
About 20 percent of Brazil's Amazon rainforest has been destroyed. But beginning in 2008, the government stepped up enforcement, using satellite images to track the destruction and send environmental police into areas where illegal deforestation was happening at its quickest pace.
The Amazon rainforest is considered one of the world's most important natural defenses against global warming because of its capacity to absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide.
About 75 percent of Brazil's emissions come from rainforest clearing, as vegetation burns and felled trees rot. That releases an estimated 400 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, making Brazil at least the sixth-biggest emitter of the gas.