The G7 nations have agreed to spend more than $20m to fight record fires tearing through the Amazon rainforest, an initiative Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said treated his country like a “colony or no-man’s land”.
The presidents of France and Chile announced the pledge at the G7 summit in the French town of Biarritz on Monday, with the French leader, Emmanuel Macron, saying: “We must respond to the call of the forest which is burning today in the Amazon.”
Satellites have recorded more than 41,000 fires in Brazil‘s Amazon region so far this year – more than half of those in this month alone. Experts say most of the fires are set by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland.
The tropical forest covers more than five million square kilometres across nine countries, including Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Its protection is seen as vital to the fight against climate change because of the vast amounts of carbon dioxide it absorbs.
The plan decided at the G7 will be implemented in two stages, said Chile’s Sebastian Pinera, who was invited to join the summit.
“Countries urgently need firefighters and specialised water bombers. This will be the first step that will be implemented immediately. The second phase is to protect these forests, protect the biodiversity they contain and reforest this region of the world,” he said.
Macron, the host of this year’s G7 summit, had declared the situation in the Amazon “an international crisis” and made the issue one of the gathering’s priorities.
He also threatened to block a huge new trade deal between the European Union and Latin America unless Bolsonaro, a climate change sceptic, takes serious steps to protect the Amazon.
Brazil would have to agree to any reforestation plan, as would local communities.
War of words
Bolsonaro has previously described rainforest protection as an obstacle to Brazil’s economic development and claimed NGOs could be setting the fires to embarrass him – without giving any evidence to back the claim.
Under pressure from the international community, Bolsonaro finally deployed on Sunday two C-130 Hercules aircraft to douse the firesd.
Responding to the G7 plan in a Twitter post, Bolsonaro described it as an attack on the country’s sovereignty. He also questioned the intentions behind Macron’s push to save the Amazon.
– Não podemos aceitar que um presidente, Macron, dispare ataques descabidos e gratuitos à Amazônia, nem que disfarce suas intenções atrás da ideia de uma "aliança" dos países do G-7 para "salvar" a Amazônia, como se fôssemos uma colônia ou uma terra de ninguém.
— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) August 26, 2019
The two leaders’ feud further escalated after the French president slammed Bolsonaro for endorsing a Facebook post insulting his wife.
Macron accused the Brazilian leader of skipping a scheduled meeting with the French foreign minister in favour of a barber appointment and reiterating that Bolsonaro had lied to him.
He said: “It’s sad. First for him and for the Brazilians.”
He said Brazilian women “are doubtless ashamed to read that about their president” and that he hoped the country would soon have a president who could behave according to the standards of the office.
“No [Brazilian] democratic government has suffered such international criticism as Bolsonaro is going through,” said Mauricio Santoro, an international relations professor at Rio de Janeiro State University.
“By breaching international environmental agreements, Brazil has been discredited, blurred and unable to exercise any type of leadership on the international stage,” he told The Associated Press news agency.
Meanwhile, thousands of people have demonstrated in cities across Brazil and outside Brazilian embassies around the world. #PrayforAmazonia became a worldwide trending topic.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country and others will talk to Brazil about reforestation in the Amazon once the fires have been extinguished.
“Of course [this is] Brazilian territory, but we have a question here of the rainforests that is really a global question,” she said on Sunday.
“The lung of our whole Earth is affected, and so we must find common solutions.”