By Anders Lorenzen
It is a situation that has been going from bad to worse. Wildfires which have been burning throughout August in the world’s largest tropical forest, the Amazon rainforest (also often called the lungs of the Earth) suddenly and quickly gained worldwide attention. World leaders, led by French President Emmanuel Macron, were quick to condemn the fires.
The fires came on the back of Amazon deforestation rates. These have tripled since the same time last year Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January, claimed that the rates were false, even though they came from his own environment agency. He also claimed as false stories, echoed by Macron and others, that the fires were started by loggers. He went as far as to claim that they were in fact started by foreign environmental NGO’s in order to create a narrative that would benefit them. Without withdrawing that statement, he later adopted a line accepting there were a variety of reasons. This happened around a time when the international pressure was mounting, and there were rumours that EU countries could block the Mercosur trade deal that had taken 20 years to negotiate.
At last month`s G7 meeting, Macron had pushed to get the Amazon wildfires to the top of the agenda. It appeared that the issue was so divisive that the only thing the French president could get through was a weak watered-down approach through a €20 million aid package, which it later appeared that the US had not signed up to.
Bolsonaro said that Brazil would not accept an aid package (though it is still possible that other Amazon countries could accept it ). This would be unless Macron withdrew statements that the Brazilian president had said were insulting. He accused the French president of interfering in Brazilian affairs. Macron did not see it this way as he had earlier in reference to the Amazon wildfires tweeted that our lungs are on fire.
Wildfires are not unusual in the Amazon. But the scale of the current wildfires is unprecedented and is probably linked to intensive logging through the slash-and-burn technique.
While perhaps not as ambitious as Macron would like, the international community is stepping up pressure on Brazil. Norway and Germany have for now pulled funding for the Brazil Amazon Fund. And the financial world is moving too, with pension fund and asset managers having issued warnings, halted deals, and stopped the purchase of government bonds.
It is also believed that several EU countries could vote against the Mercosur free trade agreement which will not only be a big blow to Brazil but to the fellow Mercosur countries Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. For now, it appears that Bolsonaro is, at least, interested in fighting the wildfires, as he has sent the army in to deal with them.
But he has shown no indication that he thinks the level of deforestation is alarming or that new government policies are needed to combat such activity. But increased international pressure could change that quickly. Until that happens, the lungs of the Earth are in a dire situation.