Governments are responding to the planetary threat posed by the fires in the Amazon. There has been a 79 percent increase in fires in 2019 compared to the same period last year. These fires are a threat to air, water, and wildlife. The Amazon generates one fifth of the world’s oxygen and it is the single largest reservoir of fresh water and biodiversity on Earth. The Amazon also regulates climate including heat and precipitation. The ongoing degradation of this region could trigger tipping points from which we will not be able to recover.
Brazilian protestors are pleading for the world’s help to combat the record setting fires in the Amazon. Brazil is home to 60 percent of the the Amazon (the other 40 percent is in Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana).
At the end of August more than 30 protests were held across Brazil demanding action to combat the fires. People held signs that read, “SOS Amazon. Everybody for the Amazon.” and “The Amazon belongs to the people”. They chanted “Hello, planet! Wake up! Without the Amazon, you can’t breathe!”
They are also calling out their federal government with much of their anger being directed at Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Protestors in Rio chanted, “The Amazon stays, out with Bolsonaro”. The far right Brazilian leader has been criticized for the significant uptick in Amazonian deforestation.
Opposition politicians, student activists, and Indigenous organizations have called for a congressional investigation into the cause of the fires. Bolsonaro has claimed the fires were set by environmentalists, however, the far more likely cause is slash and burn agriculture to make room for crops like soybeans and cattle ranching. Bolosnaro has emboldened those who are seeking to develop the Amazon.
Bolsonaro’s contempt for environmental concerns in the Amazon is abundantly obvious. He has made good on his promise to clear the way for more development. This includes changing environmental rules, defunding government oversight, failing to enforce existing laws and dissolving the Amazon fund’s committees. Perhaps the best example of Bolsonaro’s disdain for ecological interests involves his appointees.
The populist leader has surrounded himself with climate deniers and conspiracy theorists. His environment minister was convicted of illegally approving a mining project in a conservation area and his foreign minister has described climate change as a “Marxist plot”.
Bolsanoro’s corruption and deceit have earned him the nickname of “Trump of the Tropics“. Trump has tweeted praise for Bolsonaro, saying he is doing a “great job” and “He and his country have the full and complete support of the USA!” Bolsonaro said the tweet pleased him “a lot” and he expressed his “profound appreciation”.
G-7 Pledges Assistance
While Trump avoided the climate summit at the recent G-7 meeting in France, other world leaders including the leader of the host nation, prioritized efforts to combat fires in the Amazon. The G-7 announced that they will assist countries in the region with their efforts to fight fire. They indicated their plans to discuss the future of the Amazon including reforestation at the United Nations General Assembly in September.
Led by French President Emmanuel Macron, world leaders at the G-7 summit came to an agreement on both technical assistance and financial aid. Macron announced that the G7 had agreed to an immediate fund of at least $20m (£16m) to help Amazon countries fight wildfires and launch a long-term global initiative to protect the rainforest. Macron made the announcement alongside Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera. The proposed two-step process will involve collaborating with Amazonian countries to fight fires, protect biodiversity and reforestation. Similar support has also been proposed for African countries which have also been ravaged by wildfires.
Bolsonaro initially rejected the help that was offered by the G-7, but then he recanted due to public pressure. In a tweet, he said his country is being treated as though it “were a colony or no man’s land.” The Brazilian government said it will accept the financial assistance with the caveat that they administrate the disbursement.
European Aid and Trade
Brazil’s new government may be responsible for the fires and deforestation in the Amazon but they will not be easily deterred. Changing the disastrous course of the Bolsonaro government will be difficult. So in addition to carrots, European leaders are also wielding sticks.
Germany and Norway have withdrawn their support for the Amazon fund (Norway has contributed $1.2 billion to the fund and Germany has donated 68 million). European leaders have also indicated that trade deals with Brazil are contingent on protecting the Amazon.
While protecting the Amazon may seem impossible, we have done it before. In 2004, a consorted global efforts succeeded in slowing deforestation in the region. However, to succeed today we will need a far more ambitious global effort.