The Amazon Rainforest, dubbed as the lungs of the Earth as it produces 20% of the world’s oxygen and a key component in the fight against climate change is facing unprecedented degradation at the hands of loggers, ranchers, land grabbers and farmers bolstered by the controversial policies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Intersected by over a thousand rivers and home to diverse flora and fauna along with various indigenous communities, the largest tropical forest on Earth is ablaze with more than 2500 active fires from the past three weeks. Although a global issue, however, as the major percentage of the rainforest lies in Brazil followed by Peru and Colombia; therefore, the onus is on them to not only address the immediacy of the issue but to also rectify faulty policies that have loosened protective measures on natural reserves in pursuit of greater economic growth.
Such anthropogenic activities coupled with the onset of the dry season (July-September) have brought about an increase in fire related incidents with 73,000 fires being recorded so far in 2019 compared to 39,759 in all of 2018.
The imminent explanations for the Amazon inferno can be attributed to the common practice of using fire as a means to clear land either for grazing or farming in the bordering regions of the Amazon. Such anthropogenic activities coupled with the onset of the dry season (July-September) have brought about an increase in fire related incidents with 73,000 fires being recorded so far in 2019 compared to 39,759 in all of 2018. In addition, President Bolsonaro’s government has been in the line of fire since the crisis enveloped the four Brazilian states namely Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Para and Rondonia. Since taking office on 1st January, he has been largely criticised by environmental activists for his climate denialism coupled with a number of radical policies that include the disarmament of local environmental agencies, lifting of protection over indigenous land and benefiting mining and logging companies at the expense of environmental degradation by scaling back measures to curb illegal activities.
In line with his radical anti-environmentalist stance, Bolsonaro not only refused to let many European countries interfere but also blamed the local environmental groups for starting the fire. He further refused foreign aid, accusing the leaders of interfering in his country’s local matters and criticised the data provided by Brazil’s National Space and Research Institute (NSRI) which claimed that the deforestation rate in the Amazon rainforest was 88% higher as compared to last year.
The Amazon fiasco has not only tarnished Brazil’s reputation abroad as it faces great backlash over lack of action, but is also set to damage its economy as many countries have threatened to impose economic sanctions on the country. Even American President Donald Trump – an ecological hardliner himself- disapproved of the manner in which the Brazilian government was handling the crisis saying that he was ‘deeply concerned’ about the raging fires. In addition, French President Emmanuel Macron directly accused the Bolsonaro government of falsifying evidence and withdrew his support from a landmark economic deal between the European Union (EU) and the Mercosur countries.
Ultimately, after mounting global pressure, President Bolsonaro pledged to mobilise 44,000 soldiers to battle the blazes and sent military planes to dump water in the Amazon state of Rondonia. He has further banned any land clearing activities using fire, for 60 days.
Earlier this week, the Group of Seven Nations (G7) pledged to dedicate a separate fund of $20 million to curb the heightening number of wildfires spreading across the entire Amazon rainforest with a separate pledge of $11 million from the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who also offered to dispatch firefighting planes to the most affected areas. Apart from the political leadership, many celebrities, philanthropists and business personal highlighted the importance of the Amazon fires on social media. Others like actor Leonardo DiCaprio launched a separate endowment by the name of Amazon Forest Fund in collaboration with the Earth Alliance.
Ultimately, after mounting global pressure, President Bolsonaro pledged to mobilise 44,000 soldiers to battle the blazes and sent military planes to dump water in the Amazon state of Rondonia. He has further banned any land clearing activities using fire, for 60 days. He recently tweeted that ‘we’re fighting the wildfires with great success.’ The Brazilian President has also accepted Chile’s initiative of sending in four aircrafts to fight the fire and has said that he will accept financial support from both organisations and countries as Brazil itself lacks the funds required to tackle the crises. Moreover, all the South American Amazonian nations except for Venezuela have decided to meet in Leticia, Colombia – located in the heart of the forest – to find mutually agreeable solutions to the crisis.
Although the environmental activism shown from the international community is a step in the right direction as it has forced the Brazilian government to act immediately; however, there is a need to address the underlying causes of such environmental exigencies which can only be done through a global commitment suggesting that economic interests would not be prioritised over environmental ones especially in areas such as the Amazon which is the largest ecosystem of the world. The key forum for the discussion of such a pledge could be the upcoming climate change summit in September to be held in New York.
Also, considering the radical policies opted by President Bolsonaro, there is a need for people to vote for representatives who are genuinely concerned about the environment, especially in countries which host significant eco regions so that they could be saved from rampant destruction. Voters should go through the election manifestos of contesting individuals in detail, especially their proposed policies and pledges regarding trade, increasing agricultural output, funding to environmental groups etc. which are directly linked with the health of the biodiversity in their areas.
Lastly, the funds required to stop the crises from further escalation are much more than what has been already pledged by several world leaders. Moreover, it is also unclear as to how the funds will be utilised on ground by the Brazilian government. Hence, there is a need to provide a global fund along with specific compensation payments so that environmental issues especially the Amazon exigency could be effectively addressed. Also, workable policies should be chalked out that would ensure the use of the generated funds in a transparent manner. At the individual level, enthusiasts should sign global petitions like that of Greenpeace that would urge the Brazilian government to preserve the Amazon rainforest and ensure the protection of its indigenous populations.
Zarmina Khan has completed her MPhil in International Relations from QuaideAzam University. She is a lecturer at the National Defence University and QuaideAzam University, Islamabad.