BIARRITZ, France — G7 leaders have come to an agreement to help Brazil fight the raging wildfires in the Amazon rainforest, which have erupted into a global flashpoint over the perils of climate change.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who is hosting this year’s gathering of the leaders of the world’s seven largest economies, says the G7 plans to offer short-term assistance to help douse the flames.
The group has agreed to an immediate US$20-million fund to help Amazon countries fight wildfires, as well as to launch a long-term global initiative to protect the rainforest.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said the G7 effort will be aimed specifically at Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay.
“They need — and with urgency — brigades specialized in combating fires; specialized planes to fight those fires,” Pinera said.
“The second stage is more long-term and will require the consent of the countries involved,” he added, outlining not only a plan for reforestation of those parts of the basin ravaged by the flames, but also a plan to guard the biodiversity of the region.
“It would, of course, always respect their sovereignty,” he said. “We think we have to protect these real lungs of our world.”
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a populist, far-right leader, initially dismissed the hundreds of blazes and then questioned whether activist groups might have started the fires in an effort to damage the credibility of his government, which has called for looser environmental regulations in the world’s largest rainforest to spur development.
In response, European leaders threatened to block a major trade deal with Brazil that would benefit the very agricultural interests accused of driving deforestation.
Thousands of people have demonstrated in cities across Brazil and outside Brazilian embassies around the world. #PrayforAmazonia became a worldwide trending topic. Pope Francis added his voice to the chorus of concern, warning that the “lung of forest is vital for our planet.”
Bolsonaro finally took a less confrontational approach Friday and announced he would send 44,000 soldiers to help battle the blazes, which mostly seem to be charring land deforested, perhaps illegally, for farming and ranching rather than burning through stands of trees.
Macron had already indicated that he intended to make climate issues a prominent part of the agenda for discussion heading into the weekend summit, with a particular urgency placed on the situation playing out in the Amazon.
Calling the wildfires an “international crisis,” Macron called for an emergency debate. “I couldn’t agree more,” tweeted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is headed into an election campaign next month that’s expected to make his Liberal government’s climate plan a central point of debate.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to her Brazilian counterpart Sunday and offered Canada’s support, although it remains unclear what specific commitments Canada has made.
Satellites have recorded more than 41,000 fires in the Amazon region so far this year, with more than half of those coming this month alone.
Monday’s agreement was reached following a summit work session focused on climate, oceans and biodiversity — a session that U.S. President Donald Trump missed in order to attend one-on-one meetings with other leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Macron says Trump’s team was in the room, and that the U.S. president agrees with the shared goal of the Brazil package.
— With files from The Associated Press
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press