French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that the fires raging in the Amazon rain forest are an international emergency and called for the situation to be discussed at the G7 summit.
“The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency,” Macron wrote on Twitter.
Brazil’s space research centre, Inpe, has detected 72,843 fires in the Amazon so far this year – an 84 per cent rise compared to 2018.
Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right Brazilian president – who leaked documents revealed has been actively sabotaging efforts to protect the vital global resource of the rainforests – struck a defensive tone over the fires.
“I regret that Macron seeks to make personal political gains in an internal matter for Brazil and other Amazonian countries,” the 64-year-old said.
“The sensationalist tone he used does nothing to solve the problem.”
The Brazilian leader also said Mr Macron’s suggested G7 talks betrayed a “colonialist mindset”.
“The French President’s suggestion that Amazonian issues be discussed at the G7 without the participation of the countries of the region evokes a misplaced colonialist mindset in the 21st century,” he said.
Indigenous groups living within the Amazon have tried desperately to save the land.
Many blame illegal ranchers for setting the fires and conservation groups believe the crisis is man made.
They also believe the Bolsonaro government has tacitly encouraged people to set the fires in order to clear the land.
The Brazilian leader has, in turn, blamed non-governmental groups and said there is a “very strong” indication that they are responsible for the fires.
He has provided no evidence for his claims.
“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,” said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s secretary general.
The devastating fires have prompted global concern over the Amazon, which provides 20 per cent of the world’s oxygen supply.
The largest rainforest in the world, it is vital for slowing down the pace of global warming.
Environmental groups have called for protests in cities across Brazil on Friday to push the government to take action to combat the fires. Bolsonaro, however, has said that the goverment lack the resources to tackle the blaze.
Germany and Norway, citing Brazil’s apparent lack of commitment to fighting deforestation, have decided to withhold more than $60m (£50m) in funds earmarked for sustainability projects in Brazilian forests.
Further international pressure on Brazil was applied on Friday, after Ireland’s prime minister threatened to block a free trade deal.
Leo Vardakar said Ireland would try to block a trade deal between the EU and the South American Mercosur bloc unless Brazil took action to protect the rainforest.
“There is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement if Brazil does not honour its environmental commitments,” he said, according to The Irish Independent.
On Thursday 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.”