‘Amazon fire-fighting is Brazil’s internal problem’

‘Amazon fire-fighting is Brazil’s internal problem’

The way the issue was taken to G-7 was a kind of affront to Brazil’s sovereignty, he says

As fires rage through Brazil’s Amazon forests, the government led by President Jair Bolsonaro has rejected criticism of its handling of the situation and rebuffed a pledge by the G-7 to fund $20 million for the fire-fighting operation, named “Operation Green Brazil”.

In an interview, Brazilian Ambassador André Aranha Corrêa do Lago says coping with the fires is a challenge, but must be seen as Brazil’s internal problem.

How long will it take to douse the fires and how much is it likely to cost?

The whole world is looking at this issue because of the severity of the fires, but also because the Amazon is the largest tropical forest left in the world. So the solidarity over the tragedy has been stronger than anyone expected. What we feel in Brazil, as we evaluate the cost and damage, is that it is also necessary to see the context in which these fires are occurring. This is the dry season in Brazil and many fires do occur each year at this time although there have probably been more fires this year. We are taking all measures to control them; our President [Bolsonaro] gave a national address pledging zero tolerance on illegal deforestation, and people deliberately setting fires.

Why did Brazil reject the G-7 pledge of $20 million to deal with the fires?

I think we have to consider the bigger picture: the fires are not a surprise and they are not happening for the first time. Brazil is a country well capable of dealing with this issue and we have the most experience in tackling these fires. We have already established many international mechanisms to be able to access resources that are needed for this kind of challenge. The way the issue was taken to the G-7 was a kind of affront to Brazil’s sovereignty, as if no one in Brazil was dealing with it, when in fact Brazil is a leader in combating deforestation and forest fires. When the G-7 was discussing the problem in our country, they should have ensured that Brazil was also invited to the session.

Can the environment ever be a sovereign issue? You may say the Amazon is an internal issue since it is in Brazil but the forests there are called the lungs of the world…

The issue of sovereignty has been discussed for a long time about the Amazon. Parts of the forest are in different countries and we are each conscious of the treasure we have, and we are all sensitive to the need for its sustainable development so that it benefits the local populations that live there. We have 20 million people living in the Brazilian Amazon and we need to find activities for them that are compatible with its preservation. Although we are a developing country we have the most extraordinary institutions to study the Amazon and understand how to preserve it. So for the G-7 to believe they can just give a certain amount of money and that will solve the problem is to disrespect the years of work and negotiations that Brazil has undertaken for the Amazon. It has not that we refuse all aid, but it has to be done with some thought.

Is there space for cooperation with India?

The Brazilian-preserved Amazon is larger than all of India. Can you imagine what it takes to have capacity and equipment to fight fires in an area the size of India? India and Brazil are very close on all discussions on climate change and in financing for the developing world, particularly in the BASIC group. Very few countries know as much about how Brazil is working on this problem as India because we have a constant dialogue on it.

PM Modi is travelling to Brazil later this year… Will this be one of the areas of cooperation we will see movement on?

We have so many areas of cooperation from trade and investment to education and science and technology to discuss during the visit. On environmental issues and international finance, we are both convinced of the power of multilateralism. India and Brazil are united on this.

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