The fires blazing in the Amazon have been called an “international crisis” by French President Emmanuel Macron, who says the issue should be on top of the agenda at this weekend’s G7 summit.
“Our house is burning. Literally,” Mr Macron tweeted.
“The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produces 20 per cent of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire.”
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said his government was “open to dialogue” about the record-breaking blazes that have been burning for weeks in the Amazon rainforest.
Leaving his presidential residence on Friday (local time), Mr Bolsonaro said he did not have the resources to fight the devastating number of 74,000 recorded fires.
“The Amazon is bigger than Europe, how will you fight criminal fires in such an area?” he asked, suggesting farmers are burning tracts of land to clear for farming.
“We do not have the resources for that,” he said.
Mr Belsonaro also accused Mr Macron of using the fires for “personal political gains”.
He said calls to discuss the Amazon blazes at the G7 in France evoked “a misplaced colonialist mindset”. Brazil will not attend this weekend’s summit.
Brazil continued to maintain it was being smeared by critics of its widespread deforestation under Mr Bolsonaro, even as global concern grows about the fires.
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.”
The Amazon Rainforest produces more than 20% of the world’s oxygen and its been burning for the past 3 weeks. It’s our responsibility to help to save our planet. #prayforamazonia pic.twitter.com/83bNL5a37Q
— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) August 22, 2019
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.
On Wednesday, Sao Paolo was plunged into darkness in mid-afternoon when vast plumes of smoke from the fires blocked the sun and turned the sky black.
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 to disrupt the country’s commercial interests.
Mr Bolsonaro has continued to blame non-government organisations, saying there was a “very strong” indication that some could be setting blazes in retaliation for losing state funds under his administration. He did not provide any evidence.
Mr Bolsonaro, who was elected 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.
Amazon at its tipping point unless president acts
Dr Carlos Nobre, a climate scientist at the University of Sao Paulo’s Institute of Advanced Studies, told non-profit Science Friday the “spike” in deforestation means the Amazon is at the “tipping point of no return”, blaming the president’s short term economic policies.
“I don’t think the president and his Minister of Agriculture understand the full consequences of continuing to deforest the Amazon. I think that their policies are aimed at the very short term gains in pushing the agricultural frontier, cattle, farms, and also soy plantations, into the Amazon.
“This year, the last 12 months, have seen a spike, have seen a surge, a very troublesome serge. Very likely the last 12 months, we will see increase of 40% to 50% in deforestational rates in Brazil,” he said.
“So this is a sign that we might be closer to the tipping point for the Amazon. If we deforest more than 25% of the forest in the Amazon basin, we might really ruin the Amazon forest with the move to a new system in which it becomes irreversible to maintain the forest, over 56% of the basin.”
Dr Nobre said 90% of Brazilians were against Amazon deforestation and he hoped the president would act.
“Nine out of 10 … are against Amazon deforestation. So I hope eventually democracy will prevail, and he will listen to the voice of the people, including his electors, his voters, also against Amazon deforestation,” he said.
This year, Amnesty International has documented illegal land invasions and arson attacks near indigenous territories in the Amazon, including Rondonia state, where many fires are raging, its secretary-general, Dr Kumi Naidoo, said.
“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,” Dr Naidoo said.
Smoke from wildfires in the #AmazonRainforest spreads across several Brazilian states in this natural-color image taken by a @NASAEarth instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite. Although it is fire season in Brazil, the number of fires may be record-setting: https://t.co/NVQrffzntr pic.twitter.com/4JTcBz9C8f
— NASA (@NASA) August 21, 2019
The WWF conservation group also challenged Mr Bolsonaro’s allegations about NGOs, saying they diverted “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.