“Our house is burning.”
These are the words of Emmanuel Macron to describe the devastating wildfires that have been burning in the Amazon rainforest. Official estimates suggest there have been over 2,500 raging in the last 48 hours, and 7,746 fires in the 5 days to Wednesday.
The rainforest covers 5.5 million square kilometres, a larger land area than covered by the European Union, and are known as “the world’s lungs”. They provide over 20% of the planet’s oxygen supply, and are a vital carbon store which helps to slow the pace of global warming.
These fires are not just a one time crisis either, figures from the National Institute for Space Research show an 85% increase in wildfires in Brazil this year, most of them in the Amazon. Last month alone, there was a 278% rise in deforestation in the area.
Conservationists have blamed the increase on the far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has encouraged loggers and farmers to clear the land in the Amazon for crops, cattle and property. Despite early denials, on Thursday Bolsonaro acknowledged that farmers may be in part responsible.
The Amazon wildfires are a tragedy, but more so they are a crisis for the whole global community, with implications for the climate crisis, and biodiversity. President Macron is entirely right in calling for the issue to be discussed at the upcoming G7 Summit. An international crisis requires an international response.
But what should that response be? There is growing concern on the world stage, with celebrities, world leaders, the United Nations, and green activists taking to social media to call for our leaders to #ActForTheAmazon.
The European Union for its part is quite rightly considering its leverage over Brazil’s policies given the discussions underway between the EU and South American Mercosur trading block, which includes Brazil, over a potential free trade agreement.
Both France and Ireland have suggested that any trade deal could be blocked while the Brazilian government continues to encourage deforestation, while in the UK, our Liberal Democrat Members of the European Parliament have written to the EU Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmstrom, calling for urgent assurances from Brazil to honour its environmental commitments to the Amazon and end its facilitation of its wanton destruction, or we would be forced to oppose the agreement.
Lib Dem MEPs have also raised concerns about imports of beef from Brazil to the European Union, given the deforestation that often goes hand in hand with beef raised on cleared rainforest in the country.
We support free and fair progressive trade deals, but we cannot stand by and allow such a crucial part of the world’s ecosystem to be destroyed under the nose of a President so clearly unconcerned with his environmental responsibilities.
Our Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that he is deeply concerned by the fires, but has so far only committed to continue supporting existing projects to protect the rainforests, and to raise the crisis at the G7 to call for “a renewed focus on protecting nature and tackling climate change”.
This is clearly not enough. Boris Johnson should follow the lead of the Liberal Democrats in Europe and Emmanuel Macron and support a clear and strong international response to the Amazon wildfires, that puts the pressure on Bolsonaro to change course with regards to deforestation, and commits assistance if necessary to tackle the fires if he does so.
Together, the world can #ActForTheAmazon, but it requires the courage and global leadership to do so. Our Prime Minister should step up before it is too late.