World leaders call to address Amazon rainforest fires at G7

Saturday, August 24, 2019

On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron called for G7 action to correct what he named the international crisis of wildfires currently destroying Amazon rainforest in and around Brazil. G7 was already scheduled to meet this weekend. The call was quickly seconded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Satellite image of agricultural fires in southern Brazil on August 22.
Image: INPE.

"Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rainforest — the lungs which produces 20 percent of our planet's oxygen — is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let's discuss this emergency first order in two days!" Macron told the world on Thursday via Twitter.

Merkel seconded Macron's recommendation the fires be added to the agenda.

"We stand ready" tweeted Johnson "to provide whatever help we can to bring them under control and help protect one of Earth's greatest wonders."

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro opposed Macron's statement: "The French president's suggestion that Amazon issues be discussed at the G-7 without participation by the countries in the region evokes a colonialist mentality that is out of place in the 21st century[.]"

G7, or the Group of Seven, is an informal group of seven countries, the United Kingdom, United States, France, Canada, Germany, Japan, and Italy, though the European Union is also often involved. It grew out of the Group of Six, which started in the 1970s as a place for noncommunist countries to talk. Unlike G20, which focuses on economics, G7 meetings usually center on politics.

Brazil is not a member of G7, but it is part of a pact between the European Union and the South American group Mercosur, which requires Brazilian compliance with the Paris Climate Accord.

Brazil's National Institute for Space Research has reported there have been 85% more wildfires in Brazil in 2019 than there were in 2018. Bolsonaro has said publicly the Amazon rainforest should be opened up to agriculture, amongst other economic uses, and his critics, which include non-governmental environmental activism group Greenpeace, blame him for encouraging farmers and agrobusiness to set fires.

Around 3:00 p.m. local time on Monday (1800 UTC), smoke in the atmosphere turned the city of São Paulo, Brazil dark enough to require artificial lighting in a combination of cold front, clouds, and smoke from wildfires burning the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. The phenomenon lasted about an hour.

Experts attribute this to human activity. Amazon Environmental Research Institute Director Ane Alencar, in remarks to, said, "This year we do not have an extreme drought, as there was in 2015 and 2016 [...] In 2017 and 2018 we had a sufficient rainy season. In 2019, we have no weather events that affect droughts, such as El Niño [...] There's no way the weather can explain this increase."

Around one million indigenous people live in the Amazon rainforest.