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Amazon fires: Bolsonaro rages at ‘colonial’ G7 leaders over £16m aid deal to fight Brazil blazes

‘Respect for sovereignty is the least that can be expected in a civilised world,’ says far-right president

Jane Dalton
Monday 26 August 2019 19:36 BST
Brazilian Air Force spray water over Amazon fires

Jair Bolsonaro has lashed out at world leaders for agreeing an emergency aid package of $20m (£16.36m) to urgently tackle fires spreading across swathes of the Amazon rainforest.

Leaders of the G7 wealthy nations have pledged the money to try to halt the destruction of the “lungs” of the world, Earth’s biggest sink for damaging greenhouse gases.

But Brazil’s president accused the other presidents and prime ministers of treating his country like “a colony or no-man’s land” and attacking its sovereignty. It is not clear yet whether the Brazilian president has accepted the funds.

“Countries urgently need firefighters and specialised water bombers. This will be the first step that will be implemented immediately,” said Sebastian Pinera, the president of Chile.

“The second phase is to protect these forests, protect the biodiversity they contain and reforest this region of the world,” he added.

French President Emmanuel Macron said G7 countries were ready to provide concrete support to the region, as he announced the aid plan at a meeting of the G7 in Biarritz.

The seven would draw up an initiative for the Amazon that would be launched at next month’s UN General Assembly in New York, he said.

France would offer military support “in the coming hours”, Mr Macron said, adding that leaders were studying the possibility of similar support in Africa, also suffering from fires in its rainforests.

More than 41,000 blazes are ravaging rainforests in Brazil and Bolivia, many thought to have been started deliberately. The damage is so extensive that Greenpeace has described some areas as “almost a cemetery”.

Brazil has the world’s richest biodiversity, with thousands of species of wildlife, from jaguar to monkeys and frogs, while the forests absorb carbon emissions.

But Mr Bolsonaro tweeted: “We cannot accept that a president, Macron, unleashes unreasonable and gratuitous attacks on the Amazon, nor disguises his intentions behind the idea of an ‘alliance’ of the countries. G-7 to ‘save’ the Amazon, as if we were a colony or no man’s land.”

He also wrote: “Other heads of state sympathised with Brazil, after all respect for the sovereignty of any country is the least that can be expected in a civilised world.”

Donald Trump, meanwhile, skipped Monday’s working session on climate, biodiversity and oceans. Boris Johnson highlighted a separate pledge of £10m from the UK to help halt the Amazon destruction.

A spokesman for the Worldwide Fund for Nature said: “If we lose the Amazon, we lose the fight against climate change, as well a huge number of plants and animals found nowhere else.”

And he called for the UK government to ensure all future trade deals were “part of the solution, not the problem”.

Ricardo Salles, Brazil’s environment minister, welcomed the G7’s financial aid, blaming “irrational and demagogic” public policies from previous governments for the fires.

Mr Bolsonaro, who has been intent on opening the Amazon to more farming and mining, has encouraged ranchers to clear farmland and has weakened punishments for environmental crime.

As the leaders’ war of words escalated, Mr Macron savaged Mr Bolsonaro for “extraordinarily disrespectful comments” about his wife.

The French president has threatened to block a European trade deal with South America over the wildfires and “lies” over containing deforestation.

He said Brazilian women were “doubtless ashamed to read that about their president” and that he hoped the country would soon have a president who behaved according to the standards of the office.

Additional reporting by agencies

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