By Jake Spring
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil could reach historically low levels of deforestation in one to two years, the head of the environmental protection agency said on Thursday, as the country ramps up conservation efforts under left-wing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Deforestation has fallen since Lula took over the presidency on Jan. 1 from far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, who weakened environmental enforcement and saw deforestation climb to a 15-year high.
Destruction in Brazil's Amazon fell to 9,001 square kilometers (3,475 square miles) in the 12 months through July, the country's official annual period for measuring deforestation. That's the lowest level since 2018, the year before Bolsonaro took office.
But it is still nearly double the all-time low for Amazon deforestation of 4,571 square kilometers set in 2012.
Rodrigo Agostinho, the head of the country's primary federal environmental enforcement agency Ibama, told reporters on Thursday that the government would continue to work hard to bring down deforestation further.
"Who knows, in one or two years we could hit the numbers from 2012 and we will work in the direction of zero deforestation," Agostinho said.
Lula has pledged to end deforestation altogether by 2030.
The president has staked his international reputation on restoring Brazil's environmental credentials and will attend the United Nations COP28 climate summit in Dubai later this month with a message that the country is making progress on its commitments, Brazilian officials said ahead of the summit.
"This reduction in the deforestation rate means that we will arrive at COP28 with our heads held high," Agostinho said.
(Reporting by Jake Spring; editing by Diane Craft)