Environment

As global leaders meet, the Amazon rainforest burns

Monday, September 23, 2019

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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AFP) — The fires that burned through the Amazon rainforest last month sparked international outcry and offers of help, but as world leaders meet in New York, the planet's largest rainforest remains engulfed in flames.

The latest satellite data from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) shows 131,600 fires burning since January within the country, where 60 per cent of the Amazon lies.

The fires, which are mostly caused by humans with the goal of clearing land for farming and cattle ranching, are having a grievous effect on the forest: the rate of deforestation in the Amazon has nearly doubled since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro came to power on January 1, with the equivalent of 110 football fields of land being cleared every hour.

“It's sad to see Brazilians attacking me for fires in the Amazon, as if they hadn't always existed,” Bolsonaro wrote on Facebook Thursday.

We “remain below the average of the last 15 years. But I'm accused of being a Nero, who sets fires everywhere”.

Yet fires are at a seven-year high, according to INPE data, and despite a slight drop at the start of the month, the number of active fires recorded in Brazil from the start of the year to September 19 was up 56 per cent over the same period in 2018. Nearly half of the blazes are in the Amazon.

Bolsonaro is a climate change sceptic, but last month he sent soldiers to help put out fires in the Amazon region after Brazil came under criticism at the G7 summit, with the host, French President Emmanuel Macron, among the most outspoken detractors.

Under that deployment, which was renewed Friday for another month, nearly 7,000 soldiers and 16 aircraft are fighting both the flames and “deforestation and illegal mining”, Brazil's defence ministry said.

Marcio Astrini, a Greenpeace official in Brazil, said the deployment is making little difference.


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