French President Emmanuel Macron says the Amazon fires are an international crisis and that G-7 leaders should hold an urgent meeting about them at their summit in France this weekend.
“Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produces 20 per cent of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire,” Macron tweeted.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted: “In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity. The Amazon must be protected.”
Satellite images show smoke from the Amazon reaching across the Latin American continent to the Atlantic coast and Brazil’s biggest city, Sao Paolo, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.
The growing threat has ignited a bitter dispute about who is to blame during the tenure of a leader who described Brazil’s rainforest protections as an obstacle to economic development.
Onyx Lorenzoni, the president’s chief of staff, accused European countries of exaggerating environmental problems in Brazil in order to disrupt its commercial interests.
Bolsonaro said there was a “very strong” indication that some non-governmental groups could be setting blazes in retaliation for losing state funds under his administration. He did not provide any evidence.
Bolsonaro, who won election last year after corruption scandals involving the previous government, also accused media organisations of exploiting the fires to undermine his government.
“Most of the media wants Brazil to end up like Venezuela,” he said, referring to political and economic turbulence in the neighbouring South American country.
London-based Amnesty International this year documented illegal land invasions and arson attacks near indigenous territories in the Amazon, including Rondonia state, where many fires are raging, said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty’s secretary general.
“Instead of spreading outrageous lies or denying the scale of deforestation taking place, we urge the president to take immediate action to halt the progress of these fires,” Naidoo said.
The WWF conservation group also challenged Bolsonaro’s allegations about NGOs, saying they divert “the focus of attention from what really matters: the well-being of nature and the people of the Amazon.”
Brazil contains about 60 per cent of the Amazon rainforest, and its degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall.
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