BIARRITZ, France/SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations on Monday offered $20 million of emergency aid to help battle wildfires in the Amazon rainforest, a gesture Brazil slammed as colonialist.
Despite record wildfires in the Amazon and President Jair Bolsonaro previously saying his government lacked the money to fight the blazes, it was not clear if Brazil would accept the G7 offer amid growing international concern.
Personal relations between French President Emmanuel Macron and Bolsonaro, already strained by the crisis in the Amazon, deteriorated even further after Brazil’s leader mocked Macron’s wife on Facebook.
Facing increased isolation abroad for his stance on the unfolding environmental crisis, Bolsonaro also found himself under mounting pressure at home, with a poll on Monday showing that his government’s approval rating sank to 29.4% in August.
“We will straightaway offer Amazonian countries that signal to us their needs, financial support,” Macron said in the wealthy resort of Biarritz on France’s Atlantic coast.
Many of the fires sweeping through the Amazon are thought to have been started deliberately in Brazil, with environmentalists blaming speculators who burn vegetation to clear it in hopes of selling the land to farmers and ranchers.
Global anger and concern has been steadily rising as the blazes have raged because of the rainforest’s importance to the environment. The Amazon is often described as “the lungs of the world” due to its vast ability to absorb carbon dioxide.
Within minutes of the G7 move, however, Bolsonaro said Brazil was being treated like “a colony or no man’s land,” and denounced the creation of an international alliance to save the Amazon as an attack on his nation’s sovereignty.
However, Brazil’s Environment Minister Ricardo Salles struck a different note, calling the aid “welcome.”
Later on Monday, presidential spokesman said Bolsonaro might visit the Amazon region later this week, to check on the efforts to combat the fires.
Calling the Amazon fires a global emergency, Macron pushed the disaster to the top of the G7 agenda and said the member states were ready to provide concrete help.
“France will do so with military support in the coming hours,” he said, without giving further details.
Canada said it would send water bombers to Brazil to help contain the blaze and was also contributing C$15 million ($11.30 million) in aid.
“One of the things we have seen over the past years as Canada has faced increasingly extreme wildfire events is there is a global network of support and friends that lean on each other,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the end of the summit.
More international celebrities voiced their concern over the fires on Monday, with actor Leonardo DiCaprio telling Reuters that the crisis is “incredibly tragic” and that governments must do more to fight climate change. DiCaprio also pledged $5 million for the rainforest.
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera was invited to join the wealthy-nation leaders in Biarritz, and said the G7 plan would be implemented in two stages.
“Countries urgently need fire fighters and specialised water bombers. This will be the first step that will be implemented immediately. The second phase is to protect these forests, protect the biodiversity they contain and reforest this region of the world,” he added.
The Amazon is home to an estimated one million indigenous people from up to 500 tribes as well some three million species of plants and animals, including jaguars, sloths, giant otters, river dolphins, howler monkeys, toucans, reptiles, frogs and insects.
Macron added that the G7, which comprises the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Britain and Canada, would draw up an initiative for the Amazon that will be launched at next month’s U.N. General Assembly in New York.
On Monday, Brazil’s Foreign Ministry ordered its ambassadors in Europe and other G7 countries not to take vacations for the next two weeks in order to coordinate a diplomatic response to global concerns over the fires.
U.S. President Donald Trump was absent from the talks on climate change and biodiversity at a G7 session on Monday, and Macron said he had been busy holding bilateral meetings.
“He wasn’t in the room, but his team was,” Macron said. “You shouldn’t read anything into the American president’s absence... The U.S. are with us on biodiversity and on the Amazon initiative.”
However, in his closing news conference at the summit, Trump made clear he was not about to embrace the environmentalist cause.
“We are now the No. 1 energy producer in the world,” he said in response to a question about climate change. “I’m not going to lose that wealth, I’m not going to lose it on dreams, on windmills, which frankly aren’t working too well,” he added.
($1 = 0.8973 euros)
Reporting by Michel Rose and Marine Pennetier; Writing by Crispian Balmer and Jamie McGeever; Editing by Gareth Jones, William Maclean and Sandra Maler