August 26, 2019
International leaders gathering at the G7 summit are reportedly nearing an agreement to help fight fires in the Amazon rainforest.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday a deal to provide “technical and financial help” was close.
Leaders from the US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, the UK and Canada continue their meeting in the seaside town of Biarritz on Monday.
It comes amid international tension over record fires burning in Brazil.
Critics have accused Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, of “green lighting” the Amazon’s destruction through anti-environmental rhetoric and a lack of action on deforestation violations.
The severity of the fires, and his government’s response, has prompted global outcry and protests.
President Macron last week described the fires as an “international crisis” and pushed for them to be prioritised at the G7 summit this weekend.
On Sunday he said the leaders are “all agreed on helping those countries which have been hit by the fires as fast as possible.
“Our teams are making contact with all the Amazon countries so we can finalise some very concrete commitments involving technical resources and funding.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain would provide £10m to protect the Amazon rainforest.
What is Brazil doing?
On Friday, facing mounting pressure from abroad, President Bolsonaro authorised the military to help tackle the blazes.
The Defence Ministry has said that 44,000 troops are available to help in the effort and officials said on Sunday that military intervention has been authorised in seven states.
Warplanes have also been drafted in to dump water on the areas affected.
The president tweeted on Sunday that he had also accepted an offer of support from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
President Bolsonaro has previously been critical of the response of foreign governments and accused them of interfering in Brazil’s national sovereignty.
Announcing the military help in a television address on Friday, President Bolsonaro insisted forest fires “exist in the whole world” and said they “cannot serve as a pretext for possible international sanctions”.
On Saturday, EU Council president Donald Tusk admitted it was hard to imagine the bloc ratifying the long-awaited EU-Mercosur agreement – a landmark trade deal with South American nations – while Brazil was still failing to curb the blazes.
As criticism mounted again last week, Finland’s finance minister went as far as calling for the EU to consider banning Brazilian beef imports altogether.
How bad are the fires?
Wildfires often occur in the dry season in Brazil, but satellite data published by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) has shown an increase of 85% this year.
They say more than 75,000 have been recorded in Brazil so far in 2019, most of them in the Amazon region.
Environmental activists have drawn links between President Bolsonaro’s attitudes towards the environment and the recent surge in the number of fires in the famous rainforest.
President Bolsonaro has been accused of emboldening miners and loggers who deliberately start fires to illegally deforest land. Earlier this month he accused Inpe of trying to undermine his government with data revealing sharp increases in deforestation levels.
BBC analysis has also found that the record number of fires being recorded also coincide with a sharp drop off in fines being handed out for environmental violations.
Neighbouring Bolivia is also struggling to contain fires burning in its forests.
On Sunday President Evo Morales suspended his re-election campaign and said he was prepared to accept international help to tackle blazes in his country’s Chiquitania region.
Why is the Amazon important?
As the largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. It spans a number of countries, but the majority of it falls within Brazil.
It is known as the “lungs of the world” for its role in absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen.
The rainforest is also home to about three million species of plants and animals and one million indigenous people.
Political leaders, celebrities and environmentalists are among those who have called for action to protect the Amazon.
Thousands of protesters have also taken to the streets across the world calling on governments to intervene.
On Sunday, Pope Francis also joined the call to protect the rainforest.
“We are all worried about the vast fires that have developed in the Amazon. Let us pray so that with the commitment of all, they can be put out soon. That lung of forests is vital for our planet,” he told thousands of people in St Peter’s Square.
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