Brazil Blames Amazon Fires On NGOs
The head of INPE, the agency tasked with monitoring forest clearing, was sacked over the figures.
While it was not possible Wednesday to measure the size of the area affected by fires, thick smoke in recent days has blanketed several cities, including Sao Paulo, and caused a commercial flight to be diverted.
Forest fires tend to intensify during the dry season, which usually ends in late October or early November, as land is cleared to make way for crops or grazing.
But the WWF has blamed this year’s sharp increase in accelerating deforestation in the Amazon, which is seen as crucial to keeping climate change in check.
“Historically, in this region, the use of fire is directly linked to deforestation as it is one of the techniques for tree clearing,” WWF said in a statement.
Bolsonaro hit back Wednesday, saying “criminal action by those NGOs, to call attention against me, against the Brazilian government” following funding cuts may be the reason for the forest fires.
“This is the war that we are facing,” Bolsonaro told reporters.
“The fires were lit in strategic places. All the indications suggest they went there to film and start fires. That’s what I feel.”
Deforestation under scrutiny
Bolsonaro’s comments come as Brazil hosts a UN regional meeting on climate change in the northeastern city of Salvador ahead of December’s summit in Chile.
The 25th UN Conference on Climate Change (COP25) was originally planned for Brazil, but the country pulled out, citing impossible objectives.
Activists held a protest in the city where they denounced Bolsonaro’s latest accusation as “absurd”.
“The fires are the consequence of a policy of environmental devastation, of support for agribusiness, of increasing pastures,” Camila Veiga of the Brazilian Association of NGOs told AFP.
Speaking on the sidelines of the week-long workshop, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles defended the government’s efforts to prevent illegal deforestation.
“All the rules on illegal deforestation have been upheld, all strategies have continued to be enforced,” Salles said.
“Unfortunately both the states and the federal government suffer because of the economic crisis, budget cuts, which hinders… enforcement operations.”
The forest fires have fueled criticism of Bolsonaro’s anti-environment rhetoric, which activists blame for emboldening loggers, miners and farmers in the Amazon.
Salvador mayor Antonio Carlos Magalhaes told AFP that, if necessary, “political forces” in Brazil would work “to block any attempt at radical or extreme decisions” on the environment by Bolsonaro’s government.
“Our country is concerned about the environment, our country is concerned with the preservation of its natural heritage, our country does not want to regress on this agenda, it wants to move forward,” Magalhaes said.
Norway joined Germany on Thursday in halting Amazon protection subsidies, accusing Brazil of turning its back on the fight against deforestation.
Worsening relations between Brazil and Europe has worried about the powerful agriculture sector, which fears a backlash from its key markets.
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