Brazil's vast forests are suffering from an increasingly devastating one-two punch.
The 'Godzilla' El Niño drought that has plagued forests through 2015 seems poised to continue well into 2016.
And on top of that, weakened environmental laws -- undercutting the Brazilian 'Forest Code' that has helped bring the nation's rampant deforestation under control -- are adding seriously to the problem of forest burning.
Quarter of a million fires
Last year nearly 240,000 forest fires were detected in Brazil. That staggering number was attributable in large part to the intense drought and heat wave that has plagued large areas of the country -- from the southern Amazon to the imperiled Cerrado savannas and beyond.
But that's not the entire story. The 28% increase in forest fires compared to 2014 was also caused by human activities -- some of it clearly associated with a weakening of the Forest Code.
Embattled Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who's not likely to survive the next election, tried to stop the powerful rural and industrial lobbies in Brazil from seriously undercutting the Forest Code. But her efforts were only partially successful, and the weaker forest protections are now starting to bite hard.
In Brazil, the spike in forest fires also contributed to a 16% increase in deforestation in 2015. This rise is precisely the opposite of what Brazil promised at the Paris Climate Accords, in which it pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 43% over the next 15 years.
A key element of Brazil's climate promise was an assurance that it would crack down and halt illegal deforestation. The Forest Code has helped Brazil to reduce illegal forest clearing markedly, but with its weakened provisions a lot of the current deforestation is actually legal.
Even more worrisome are two bills currently being debated in the Brazilian Congress. If passed, these bills would allow a big rise in legal forest destruction.
One of the bills would overturn a ban on large infrastructure projects inside indigenous lands, with the traditional landowners getting a 2 percent cut of the project's cost.
Such blatant payoffs would make it increasingly difficult for indigenous groups to refuse new roads, dams, mining, and other major infrastructure.
The other bill would fast-track environmental licensing for big infrastructure projects, such as dams and roads. Instead of requiring detailed EIA studies and public hearings before a project can be approved, the new rules would allow self-licensing by the same companies that plan to build the projects.
Again and again, research has shown that such infrastructure projects not only have important direct impacts, but often open up forests to a Pandora's Box of additional pressures -- such as increasing deforestation, fires, illegal colonization, and land speculation.
In 2015 fires have burned across Brazil, but the biggest victim has been the Amazon -- where over 100,000 fires razed large expanses of forest in just three Brazilian states.
And across Brazil, around 1.2 million hectares of forest are still being destroyed each year -- the equivalent of over 700,000 soccer fields.
Not only is the world worried about Brazil. In October, the Brazilian Congress was presented with a petition co-signed by 1.4 million Brazilians -- pleading for a national 'no-deforestation commitment'.
As the Godzilla drought continues and powerful lobbies push for weakened environmental protections, 2016 could be a year of growing peril for Brazil's mega-diverse forests.