Macron calls Amazon fires ‘crisis’ as Brazil hits back

French President Emmanuel Macron has condemned the wildfires in the Amazon as “an international crisis”, but Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has branded the comments as “colonialist”.

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Mr Macron has said he plans to bring up the wildfires currently spreading across the Amazon at this weekend’s international G7 summit in Biarritz (‎Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Nouvelle-Aquitaine).

In a tweet, the French head of state wrote: “Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon, the lungs of our planet that produce 20% of our oxygen, is on fire. This is an international crisis. Members of the G7, let us meet in two days to speak about this emergency.”

This week, secretary general of the UN, António Guterres, tweeted via his official Twitter account that he was “deeply concerned by the fires in the Amazon rainforest”.

He said that “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”.

Bolsonaro: “A colonialist spirit”

But Brazilian President Mr Bolsonaro has hit back at Mr Macron’s comment, calling the language “sensationalist”, and accusing him of invoking “an internal question for Brazil and other Amazonian countries” for his own political ends.

He added: “The Brazilian government is open to dialogue, based on objective data and mutual respect. The suggestion by the French President to discuss Amazonian questions at the G7, without the participation of the region’s countries, evokes a colonialist spirit that does not belong in the 21st century.”

The Brazilian president has also said he suspects local NGOs of starting the fires deliberately to damage his government, and said that the flames are spreading due to “normal” drought conditions.

Mr Bolsanaro also accused Mr Macron of using an incorrect photo, with internet users confirming that some of the images circulating online were in fact of Bolivia. AFP Factuel has since said that the photo shared by Mr Macron is at least 16 years old, as it was taken by photographer Loren McIntyre, who died in 2003.

NGOs: “Bolsonaro irresponsible”

Yet, environmental agencies have called Bolsonaro’s comments “a smoke screen” designed to distract from his government’s measures in favour of farming and mining investment, allegedly in contravention of environmental regulation.

In an open letter, 118 NGOs called Bolsonaro’s stance “irresponsible”, and said: “Bolsonaro does not need the NGOs to ruin the image of Brazil across the world” as he “manipulates public opinion against the work done by civilised society, with irresponsible and meaningless accusations”.

The NGOs have also denied Mr Bolsonaro’s accusations that they are to blame for the fires, saying that they actually discourage their workers and local people from starting any fires in the Amazon.

They allege that the fires have been caused due to deforestation.

“Irreversible damage to flora and fauna” has already happened, environmental agencies have said.

Brazilian space agency INPE has reported that there have been 72,843 forest fires in the Amazon since the beginning of the year - an 83% rise compared to the previous year, and the most since records began.

Deforestation in Brazil rose by 67% in the first seven months of the year, INPE said, with Brazilian Amazon environmental researcher Paulo Moutinho confirming to the Agence France-Presse that the rise in fires has mainly been caused by the spread of deforestation.

Similarly, Marcio Astrini, PR coordinator for Greenpeace Brazil, said: “Deforestation is growing and these fires are the consequences of anti-environmental politics.”

More than 60% of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil. It is often called “the lungs of the planet” as it is estimated to produce 20% of the world’s oxygen.

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