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Amazon fires: France and Ireland threaten to block EU trade deal

Media captionMembers of Brazil’s indigenous Mura tribe vow to defend their land

France and Ireland say they will not ratify a huge trade deal with South American nations unless Brazil does more to fight fires in the Amazon.

French leader Emmanuel Macron said President Jair Bolsonaro had lied to him about his stance on climate change.

There are currently a record number of fires in the Amazon rainforest – a major source of oxygen for the world.

Environmental groups say the fires are linked to Mr Bolsonaro’s policies, which he denies.

European leaders have also expressed dismay over the fires, with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying he is “deeply concerned” about “the impact of the tragic loss of these precious habitats”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the fire an “acute emergency… shocking and threatening not only for Brazil and the other affected countries, but also for the whole world”.

  • In graphics: How bad are the Amazon fires?
  • ‘Football pitch’ of Amazon forest lost every minute

Mr Bolsonaro said on Friday that he was considering options for fighting the fires, including deploying the military.

However, he has also accused Mr Macron of meddling for “political gain”, and previously said calls to discuss the fires at this weekend’s G7 summit in Biarritz, France – which Brazil is not participating in – showed “a misplaced colonialist mindset”.

How significant is the trade deal?

Very – the EU-Mercosur trade deal has been described as the EU’s biggest deal to date.

It took 20 years of negotiations to strike the agreement with the South American bloc, consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay.

Media captionOne campaigner called the forest fires a “vicious cycle”

It would cut or remove trade tariffs on both sides, giving EU firms that make industrial products and cars access to Mercosur, and helping Mercosur countries export farm products, including beef, sugar, and poultry, to the EU.

But Mr Macron, and Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, now say they will not ratify the EU-Mercosur trade deal unless Brazil shows a commitment to protecting the environment.

“Given the attitude of Brazil over the last weeks, the president can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him at the Osaka (G20) summit (in June),” and did not intend to meet climate change obligations, a French presidential official said on Friday.

Why are people so worried about the fires?

The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming.

Media captionHow is the rainforest helping to limit global warming?

It is known as the “lungs of the world” and is home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people.

  • Amazon: Lungs of the planet

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted on Thursday: “In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity. The Amazon must be protected.”

How bad are the fires and who is responsible for them?

Media captionPresident Bolsonaro accuses NGOs of starting Amazon wildfires

Satellite data published by the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) has shown an increase of 85% this year in fires across Brazil, most of them in the Amazon region.

Mr Bolsonaro has brushed off the latest data, arguing that it was the season of the “queimada”, when farmers burn land to clear it before planting.

However, Inpe has noted that the number of fires is not in line with those normally reported during the dry season.

Wildfires often occur in the dry season in Brazil but they are also deliberately started in efforts to illegally deforest land for cattle ranching.

Conservationists say Mr Bolsonaro has encouraged loggers and farmers to clear the land.

During his campaign, he pledged to limit fines for damaging the rainforest and to weaken the influence of the environmental agency.

Mr Bolsonaro has suggested that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) started the fires, but admitted he had no evidence for this claim. In comments on Thursday, he acknowledged that farmers might be involved in setting fires in the region, according to Reuters news agency.

He has also argued that the country is not equipped to fight the fires.

“The Amazon is bigger than Europe, how will you fight criminal fires in such an area?” he said on Thursday. “We do not have the resources for that.”

The Amazon rainforest covers an estimated 5.5m sq km (2.1m sq mi), about half the size of Europe.

US space agency Nasa, meanwhile, has said that overall fire activity across the Amazon basin this year has been close to the average compared to the past 15 years.

What are people doing?

Image caption

Protesters outside the Brazilian embassy in London

Environmental groups have called for protests in cities across Brazil on Friday to demand action to combat the fires.

Hundreds of protesters also gathered outside the Brazilian embassies in London and Paris on Friday.

“We can’t stand around waiting for the sky to turn black all the way here in London too,” protester Laura Villares House, 33, told BBC Brasil.

Image copyright
NASA

Image caption

Smoke from fires burning in the Amazon can be seen from space