Amazon fires prompt alarm in Europe and anger at Brazil’s government //
LONDON — European leaders have reacted with growing fear and anger to the fires ravaging Brazil’s rainforest, calling it a worldwide crisis that is accelerating global warming — and one that Brazil’s leader appears unwilling to combat.
President Emmanuel Macron of France went so far, on Friday, as to accuse President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil of lying about being committed to fighting climate change and protecting the Amazon forest.
As a result, Macron said, he would try to kill a major trade deal between Europe and South America that has been years in the making.
Bolsonaro said on Friday he was planning to send the military to contain the blazes.
Macron’s statement escalated a series of sharp comments and accusations he has traded with Bolsonaro, an unusually harsh exchange between the leaders of two democracies.
The French president and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany both said the Amazon fires should be added to the agenda of the Group of 7 summit being held this weekend and that Bolsonaro replied by telling them to keep their noses out of Brazil’s business.
The fires have prompted a widespread backlash against Brazil and its far-right president, who has cut back on protection of wild lands and wants to open more rainforest to farming and ranching.
Environmentalists and celebrities have called for a boycott of the country, and Germany and Norway have halted payments to a $1.2 billion Amazon conservation program after Bolsonaro’s government interfered with its leadership.
While many of the fires have been set by farmers on lands that have been previously cleared, others are set by people who want to clear rain forest anew. The number of fires has increased sharply this year, and environmentalists say Bolsonaro’s government has enabled and even encouraged the destruction, which it denies.
Bolsonaro claimed this week that nongovernmental organizations had set the fires to make his administration look bad, in retaliation for having their government grants cut, but conceded he had no evidence for the accusation. He said his country did not have the resources to fight the fires effectively.
The Amazon forests are one of the world’s most powerful forces for removing carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere. In addition, deforestation threatens indigenous peoples and wildlife found only in that region.
On Thursday, Macron tweeted: “Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest — the lungs that produce 20 per cent of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire. It is an international crisis.”
He said the Group of 7 members should take up the matter at their meeting, which begins Saturday in Biarritz, France.
Bolsonaro accused Macron of trying to use the issue “for personal political gain.” The idea of major powers discussing a Brazilian problem without including Brazil, which is not a Group of 7 member, “evokes a misplaced colonialist mindset.”
But it soon became evident that Macron was not alone. The United Nations secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, said, “in the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity.”
On Friday, Steffen Seibert, a spokesperson for Merkel, said at a media briefing that “the extent of the fires in the Amazon area is shocking and threatening, not only for Brazil and the other affected countries, but also for the whole world.”
Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, left, at a military ceremony Friday, reportedly told leaders to keep their noses out of Brazil’s business.