G7 leaders agree to $20 million fund to help fight Amazon fires

NASA satellites track actively burning fires across South America & captured images of smoke in the last week. (Photo: NASA/MGN)
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BIARRITZ, France (AP) - G-7 countries have agreed to an immediate $20 million fund to help Amazon countries fight wildfires and launch a long-term global initiative to protect the rainforest.

The announcement came from French President Emmanuel Macron, the host of this year’s meeting of G-7 leaders, and the Chilean President Sebastián Piñera. Macron said that the Amazon represents the “lungs” of the planet and that leaders were studying the possibility of similar support in Africa, also suffering from fires in its rainforests.

Macron said the U.S. supported the initiative, although he acknowledged that U.S. President Donald Trump had skipped Monday’s working session on the environment.

Fires are common during Brazil’s dry season, but this year has set an alarming record. The country’s National Space Research Institute, which monitors deforestation, has recorded more than 77,000 wildfires in Brazil this year. That is an 85 percent rise over last year, and about half of the fires have been in the Amazon region. Experts say most of the fires are set by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland. But the same monitoring agency has reported a sharp increase in deforestation this year as well.

Brazil’s federal police agency announced Sunday that it would investigate reports that farmers in the state of Para, one of those most affected by the blazes, had called for “a day of fire” to ignite fires Aug. 10. Local news media said the group organized over WhatsApp to show support for Bolsonaro’s efforts to loosen environmental regulations.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country and others will talk with Brazil about reforestation in the Amazon once fires there have been extinguished.

“Of course (this is) Brazilian territory, but we have a question here of the rainforests that is really a global question,” she said. “The lung of our whole Earth is affected, and so we must find common solutions.”

Pope Francis also added his voice to the chorus of concern over the fires in Brazil, which borders his homeland of Argentina, and urged people to pray so that “they are controlled as quickly as possible.” He told a crowd in St. Peter’s Square that “we’re all worried” about the Amazon fires. He warned that that green “lung of forest is vital for our planet.”

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tweeted that he had talked by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said Israel would send a specialized plane to help in the firefighting operation.

People demonstrated in Rio de Janeiro and other Brazilian cities Sunday demanding Bolsonaro’s administration do more to protect the Amazon. One boy in Rio held up a poster saying “Bol$onaro is burning our future,” while people chanted: “Bolsonaro out! Amazon stays!”

Critics have accused Bolsonaro’s pro-development policies of encouraging farmers and ranchers to increase efforts to strip away the forest, though the president has issued repeated pledges recently to protect the area, and backed that up by sending in soldiers and other federal forces.