The ongoing fires in the Amazon rainforest are unprecedented in scale and intensity. They are also so when it comes to international reaction to them. The fires are just turning from a sheer environmental issue to a political-economic one, threatening Brazil’s relations with its trading partners, especially in Europe.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has gone to Biarritz, France, to attend the 45th G7 summit, with the Amazon fires in mind. French President Emmanuel Macron said he would raise the issue at the summit. “Our house is burning. Literally,” Macron wrote on Twitter on August 22.
Other European leaders threaten to use trade deals to force the government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to act to stop the fires. Bolsonaro’s administration is seen as giving the green light for more deforestation in the Amazon for economic development reasons.
Finland said it would propose a ban on Brazilian beef imports in reaction to the fires. Finnish Finance Minister Mika Lintila lamented the destruction of rainforests. She suggested that the EU and Finland, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Council now, consider banning the import of Brazilian beef.
“Now we need effective action from the EU… I am ready to raise the issue with my EU finance minister colleagues who will be coming to Helsinki in September, if there is no progress before then,” Lintila said.
Ireland is also talking about suspending trade deals with the South American trading bloc, Mercosur, if Brazil did not take action on the fires. The fires are more intense in Brazil this year, although they are common in the dry season this Latin American country.
According to Brazilian state experts, nearly 77,000 wildfires erupted across Brazil this year, which is 85% over the number of fires reported in the same period last year. The Amazon rainforest is the largest on earth. It covers 40% of South America and is home to more than 30 million people and countless mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles, most of them unique to the jungle.
The Amazon is known as the ‘lungs of the planet’ and in his August 22 tweet, Macron estimated that the rainforest produces 20% of the world’s oxygen. This oxygen is carried around the world in weather systems. Now, however, the fires are pumping out alarming quantities of carbon into the world’s atmosphere, hence the international alarm and reaction.
Bolsonaro is accusing NGOs calling for action from his government of receiving money from European states, such as Germany and Norway, to exaggerate the effect of the fires. Nevertheless, deforestation has rapidly accelerated during the first eight months of Bolsonaro’s rule. The Brazilian leader has worked to silence environment advocates in his country and promoted the opening of the Amazon to mining, farming and logging.
He recently fired the head of Brazil’s space research centre after data was published showing 72,843 fires in the Amazon this year alone, marking an 83% increase over the same period of 2018. This is also the highest number of fires since records began in 2013.
On August 24, Bolsonaro ordered military aircraft and troops to prepare to deploy in the Amazon to fight the fires. Some 44,000 troops are reportedly available for operations to put out the fires. Forces are heading to six Brazilian states that asked for federal help to contain the blazes. But whether these efforts will pay off quickly to end the tragedy in the Amazon rainforest remains to be seen in the coming days.