Leaders of the Group of Seven nations have said they are preparing to help Brazil battle fires burning across the Amazon region and repair the damage as tens of thousands of soldiers got ready to join the fight against blazes that have caused global alarm.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the summit leaders were nearing an agreement on how to support Brazil and said the agreement would involve both technical and financial mechanisms “so that we can help them in the most effective way possible.”
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 the “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 specialised plane to help in the firefighting operation.
On Friday, Mr Bolsonaro announced 44,000 soldiers would be sent to help battle the fires that are scattered across Brazil’s’s share of the vast Amazon, an overall region 10 times the size of Texas that is seen as a global bulwark against climate change.
Only a few hundred troops had been sent so far.
The country’s satellite monitoring agency has recorded more than 41,000 fires in the Amazon region so far this year – with more than half of those coming this month alone.
“Criminal fires will be severely punished”
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 on Sunday 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 blazes on August 10.
Local news media said the group organised over WhatsApp to show support for Bolsonaro’s efforts to loosen environmental regulations.
Justice minister Sergio Moro, who oversees the police, said on Twitter that Mr Bolsonaro “asked for a rigorous investigation” and said “the criminal fires will be severely punished.”
People demonstrated in Rio de Janeiro and other Brazilian cities on Sunday demanding Mr 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!”
Merkel noted that Mr Bolsonaro is putting “significant forces” into the effort to save the rainforest.
But the Brazilian president has had a tense relationship with foreign governments – including Germany’s – and non-governmental groups that he accuses of meddling in his country’s management of the Amazon.
He last week floated the idea, without evidence, that non-governmental groups were setting fires to embarrass him.
Mr Macron’s office on Friday complained that the Brazilian leader “had lied to him” about environmental commitments.
Asked if he would speak with Mr Macron, Mr Bolsonaro said, “If he calls me, I will answer. I am being extremely well-mannered with him even though he called me ‘a liar’.”
Meanwhile, Bolivian President Evo Morales said he would welcome aid in fighting his own country’s wildfires, which have scorched about 3,475 square miles (900,000 hectares).
Most of the damage has been in the forests of the Chiquitanía region over the past two weeks, but fires also have burned in Bolivia’s Amazon region.
Mr Morales said he had accepted offers of assistance from the leaders of Spain, Chile and Paraguay.
Environmental fund backed by DiCaprio pledges millions of dollars to help Amazon
A new environmental foundation backed by Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio is pledging $5 million (£4,076,683) in aid to the Amazon, which has been swept by wildfires.
Earth Alliance was created last month by DiCaprio and philanthropists Laurene Powell Jobs and Brian Sheth.
It launched the Amazon Forest Fund in an announcement on its website on Sunday.
The alliance is also seeking donations to help repair the Brazilian rainforest, often referred to as the “lungs of the planet”.
A record number of wildfires were reported across the country this year by Brazilian federal experts, up 84% over the same period in 2018.
The funds will be distributed to five local groups working to combat the problem.
Brazilian military begins operations to fight Amazon fires
Brazilian troops backed by military aircraft have been deployed in the Amazon to fight fires that have swept the region and prompted anti-government protests as well as an international outcry.
Some 44,000 troops will be available for “unprecedented” operations to put out the fires, and forces are heading to four Brazilian states that asked for federal help to contain the blazes, defence minister Fernando Azevedo said.
The states are Roraima, Rondonia, Tocantins and Para.
The military’s first mission will be the deployment of 700 troops to the area around Porto Velho, capital of Rondonia, Mr Azevedo said.
He added that the military will use two C-130 Hercules aircraft capable of dumping up to 12,000 litres (3,170 gallons) of water on fires.
An Associated Press journalist flying over the Porto Velho region Saturday morning reported hazy conditions and low visibility.
On Friday, the reporter saw many already deforested areas that were burned, apparently by people clearing farmland, as well as a large column of smoke billowing from one fire.
The Brazilian military operations came after widespread criticism of president Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the crisis.
On Friday, the president authorised the armed forces to get involved in putting out the fires, saying he is committed to protecting the Amazon region.
“It shows the concern of Bolsonaro’s government about this issue,” Mr Azevedo said. “It was a very fast response.”
Mr Bolsonaro has previously described rainforest protections as an obstacle to Brazil’s economic development, sparring with critics who say the Amazon absorbs vast amounts of greenhouse gasses and is crucial for efforts to contain climate change.
The Amazon fires have become a global issue, escalating tensions between Brazil and European countries who believe Mr Bolsonaro has neglected commitments to protect biodiversity.
Protesters gathered outside Brazilian diplomatic missions in European and Latin American cities Friday, and demonstrators also marched in Brazil.
The dispute spilled into the economic arena when French leader Emmanuel Macron threatened to block a European Union trade deal with Brazil and several other South American countries.
He wants G7 leaders meeting at a summit in France this weekend to discuss the Amazon crisis.
“First we need to help Brazil and other countries put out these fires,” Mr Macron said Saturday.
The goal is to “preserve this forest that we all need because it is a treasure of our biodiversity and our climate thanks to the oxygen that it emits and thanks to the carbon it absorbs”, he said.
Bolivia and Paraguay have also struggled to contain fires that swept through woods and fields, in many cases set to clear land for farming.
A US-based aircraft, the B747-400 SuperTanker, is flying over devastated areas in Bolivia to help put out the fires and protect forests.
Fires are common in Brazil in the annual dry season, but they are much more widespread this year.
Brazilian state experts reported nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85% over the same period in 2018.