Amazon fires: Brazil to reject G7 offer of $22m aid

The Brazilian government has said it will reject an offer of aid from G7 countries to help tackle fires in the Amazon rainforest.

French President Emmanuel Macron – who hosted a G7 summit that ended on Monday – said $22m (£18m) would be released.

But foreign minister Ernesto Araujo has said a new initiative is not needed, because international mechanisms are in place to fight deforestation.

And the defence minister said the fires in the Amazon were not out of control.

President Jair Bolsonaro has accused France of treating Brazil like a colony.

Commenting on the G7 offer of aid, Mr Bolsonaro’s chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, told the Globo news website: “Thanks, but maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe.

“Macron cannot even avoid a predictable fire in a church that is part of the world’s heritage, and he wants to give us lessons for our country?” Mr Lorenzoni added, in a reference to the fire that hit Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris in April.

He also said Brazil could teach “any nation” how to protect native forests.

Mr Araujo says there are already mechanisms under the auspices of the UN climate convention to fight deforestation.

“Efforts of some political currents to extrapolate real environmental issues into a fabricated ‘crisis’ as a pretext for introducing mechanisms for external control of the Amazon are very evident,” he added in a tweet.

A record number of fires are burning in Brazil, mostly in the Amazon, according to the country’s space research agency, Inpe. President Macron last week described the fires as an “international crisis”.

Critics have accused him of making deforestation worse in the Amazon through anti-environmental rhetoric.

Greenpeace France has described the G7’s response to the crisis as “inadequate given the urgency and magnitude of this environmental disaster”, it said in a statement (in French).

On Monday, actor Leonardo DiCaprio pledged $5m towards helping the rainforest.

One world expert on forestry says what is needed in Brazil is a change in political priorities.

“The funding for Brazil’s environment agency has gone down by 95% this year, it [has] essentially gutted large part of the actions that have been put in by the agricultural ministry,” Yadvinder Malhi, professor of Ecosystem Science at the University of Oxford, told the BBC’s Today programme.

“So the real thing is to look at the political direction of governance in the Amazon that’s changing under the new Brazilian government.”

What was pledged?

The $22m was announced on Monday as the leaders of the G7 – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US – continue to meet in Biarritz, France.

Mr Macron said the funds would be made available immediately – primarily to pay for more firefighting planes – and that France would also “offer concrete support with military in the region”.

But Mr Bolsonaro – who has been engaged in a public row with Mr Macron in recent weeks – accused the French leader of launching “unreasonable and gratuitous attacks against the Amazon region”, and “hiding his intentions behind the idea of an ‘alliance’ of G7 countries”.

Why is Mr Bolsonaro so prickly about foreign aid?

President Bolsonaro has long maintained that European countries are trying to gain access to Brazil’s natural resources. He alleges that European interest in the welfare of the Amazon is a thin guise for attempts to gain a foothold in the region.

Asked by international journalists about environmental protection of the Amazon at a press briefing on 6 July, he said: “Brazil is like a virgin that every pervert from the outside lusts for”.

He also said Europeans had “got it into their heads” that the Amazon did not belong to Brazil.

Since then, he has stressed the issue of sovereignty time and time again.

“These countries that send money here, they don’t send it out of charity,” Mr Bolsonaro said last week. “They send it with the aim of interfering with our sovereignty.”

And on Monday, he tweeted that “respect for the sovereignty of any country is the least that can be expected in a civilised world”.

He also accused the leaders of G7 countries of treating the Amazon “as if it were a colony or a no-man’s land”.

On Friday, facing mounting pressure from abroad, President Bolsonaro authorised the military to help tackle the blazes.

Brazil says 44,000 soldiers have been deployed to combat the fires and environmental crimes in the Amazon, and military operations are under way in seven states as the result of requests for assistance from local governments.

On Saturday, EU Council president Donald Tusk said 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.

Wildfires often occur in the dry season in Brazil, but satellite data published by Inpe has shown an increase of 80% this year.

What is Brazil doing?

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.

BBC