Kudos are in order for world leaders who reacted quickly to forest fires in the Amazon that are so intense soot-darkened skies have turned day into night in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city thousands of kilometres away.
Last Monday, the Group of Seven nations announced a $20 million (U.S.) aid package to help the Amazon countries fight those fires.
And Canada, a G7 member, further announced it would commit an additional $15 million to fighting the fires and send water bombers to regions of Brazil and Bolivia to help douse the flames.
Those are crucial steps considering the massive forest, often referred to as the Earth’s “lungs,” provides 20 per cent of the world’s oxygen.
So far this year there have been over 40,000 forest fires in Brazil’s Amazon, a 79 per cent increase over the same period in 2018. Those currently raging must be extinguished.
But, sadly, those aid packages won’t stop future fires from being lit in a forest that is home to three million species of plants and animals unless world leaders can convince Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, to change his ways.
That’s because the fires raging across Brazil’s rainforest are a result of the actions of loggers, miners and farmers who have received the message loud and clear from Bolsonaro that he supports their business activities over efforts to protect the rainforest.
Indeed, the right-wing populist leader was elected in 2018 on a promise to ditch protections for the rainforest - and for the one million Indigenous people who live within it.
And he has put his money where his mouth is, rolling back protections and reducing the budgets to enforce environmental laws.
Critics say that has emboldened businesses, which are now setting the fires to clear the land for farming or mining. Meanwhile, loggers are cutting down trees in previously protected areas.
The few protections that are still in place are actually an improvement over Bolsonaro’s original plan to completely do away with the environment ministry.
That limited course correction wasn’t because the Brazilian president suddenly realized the importance of protecting the rainforest. It was a result of pressure from the country’s agricultural businesses, which rightly feared that a complete gutting of environmental protections would incite a worldwide boycott of Brazilian products.
And by so blatantly putting mining and forestry interests ahead of protecting the rainforest and its inhabitants, Bolsonaro is still leading his country towards a similar end.
So far, European Union leaders in France and Ireland have threatened to block a trade deal with Brazil, which was 20 years in the making, if Bolsonaro does not take action to protect the rainforest.
And a statement issued at the G7 summit by more than 50 Indigenous groups and environmental organizations calls for governments around the world to strengthen import restrictions on beef, soy, minerals and other products that originate from areas affected by deforestation.
Further it asks all governments to conduct due diligence before investing in the Amazon to ensure human rights and environmental protections are not being violated.
In the face of intense pressure from the G7 leaders, Bolsonaro suddenly reversed course and proclaimed “a profound love and respect for the Amazon.” Indeed, he went so far as to say that “protecting the rainforest is our duty,” and dispatched the military to help fight forest fires.
That’s quite a turnaround given all his previous actions.
Regardless of the motivations for that, it shows he’s not immune to potential boycotts or political pressure.
Now all world leaders must continue to hold his feet to the fire to ensure his change of heart results in a permanent change of policy.
The Toronto Star