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    Amazon fires: G7 leaders close to agreeing plan to help

    August 26, 2019

    International leaders gathering at the G7 summit are reportedly nearing an agreement to help fight fires in the Amazon rainforest.French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday a deal to provide "technical and financial help" was close.Leaders from the US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, the UK and Canada continue their meeting in the seaside town of Biarritz on Monday.It comes amid international tension over record fires burning in Brazil.Critics have accused Brazil's President, Jair Bolsonaro, of "green lighting" the Amazon's destruction through anti-environmental rhetoric and a lack of action on deforestation violations.
    The severity of the fires, and his government's response, has prompted global outcry and protests.President Macron last week described the fires as an "international crisis" and pushed for them to be prioritised at the G7 summit this weekend.On Sunday he said the leaders are "all agreed on helping those countries which have been hit by the fires as fast as possible."Our teams are making contact with all the Amazon countries so we can finalise some very concrete commitments involving technical resources and funding."UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain would provide £10m to protect the Amazon rainforest.
    What is Brazil doing?On Friday, facing mounting pressure from abroad, President Bolsonaro authorised the military to help tackle the blazes.The Defence Ministry has said that 44,000 troops are available to help in the effort and officials said on Sunday that military intervention has been authorised in seven states.Warplanes have also been drafted in to dump water on the areas affected.The president tweeted on Sunday that he had also accepted an offer of support from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
    Protests calling for intervention have continued in Brazil across the weekend
    President Bolsonaro has previously been critical of the response of foreign governments and accused them of interfering in Brazil's national sovereignty.Announcing the military help in a television address on Friday, President Bolsonaro insisted forest fires "exist in the whole world" and said they "cannot serve as a pretext for possible international sanctions".On Saturday, EU Council president Donald Tusk admitted it was hard to imagine the bloc ratifying the long-awaited EU-Mercosur agreement - a landmark trade deal with South American nations - while Brazil was still failing to curb the blazes.As criticism mounted again last week, Finland's finance minister went as far as calling for the EU to consider banning Brazilian beef imports altogether.
    How bad are the fires?Wildfires often occur in the dry season in Brazil, but satellite data published by Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) has shown an increase of 85% this year.They say more than 75,000 have been recorded in Brazil so far in 2019, most of them in the Amazon region.Environmental activists have drawn links between President Bolsonaro's attitudes towards the environment and the recent surge in the number of fires in the famous rainforest.President Bolsonaro has been accused of emboldening miners and loggers who deliberately start fires to illegally deforest land. Earlier this month he accused Inpe of trying to undermine his government with data revealing sharp increases in deforestation levels.BBC analysis has also found that the record number of fires being recorded also coincide with a sharp drop off in fines being handed out for environmental violations.Neighbouring Bolivia is also struggling to contain fires burning in its forests.On Sunday President Evo Morales suspended his re-election campaign and said he was prepared to accept international help to tackle blazes in his country's Chiquitania region.
    Why is the Amazon important?
    As the largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. It spans a number of countries, but the majority of it falls within Brazil.It is known as the "lungs of the world" for its role in absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen.The rainforest is also home to about three million species of plants and animals and one million indigenous people.
    Amazon: Lungs of the planet
    Political leaders, celebrities and environmentalists are among those who have called for action to protect the Amazon.Thousands of protesters have also taken to the streets across the world calling on governments to intervene.On Sunday, Pope Francis also joined the call to protect the rainforest."We are all worried about the vast fires that have developed in the Amazon. Let us pray so that with the commitment of all, they can be put out soon. That lung of forests is vital for our planet," he told thousands of people in St Peter's Square.
    Amazon: Lungs of the planet
    The Amazon in South America is the largest, most diverse tropical rainforest on Earth, covering an area of five and a half million square kilometres (2.1 million sq mi).
    18 November 2014
    It accounts for more than half of the planet’s remaining rainforest and is home to more than half the world's species of plants and animals.But over the last 40 years, this great verdant tract has been increasingly threatened by deforestation. Clearing of the forest began in the 1960s and reached a peak in the 90s when an area the size of Spain was cleared, primarily to make space for cattle and soybean production.But the soil exposed by this clearing is only productive for a short period of time, meaning that farmers must continue to clear more land to keep their businesses viable.
    Although deforestation rates have now declined – hitting an all time low in 2011 - the forest is still gradually disappearing, reducing the region’s scale and biodiversity.But this felling also has an impact on the planet as a whole because the forest also plays a critical role in cleaning the air we breathe.It does this by sucking up the global emissions of carbon dioxide from things like cars, planes and power stations to name just a few.
    Without this “carbon sink” the world’s ability to lock up carbon will be reduced, compounding the effects of global warming.In this film, ecological economist Dr Trista Patterson, lead scientist with The Nature Conservancy Dr M Sanjayan, sustainability advisor and author Tony Juniper and environmental economist Pavan Sukhdev reveal the richness of life supported by the Amazon and the hidden contribution this great forest makes in helping regulate the planets climate.

    'All you can see is death.' The regions reeling

    US President Donald Trump is seen during the presentation ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Celtics basketball legend Bob Cousy in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on August 22, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
    Trump makes powerless demand of US companies
    US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang for the second time in 6 weeks - and returned with the three freed Americans that were detained in North Korea. The two also discussed details on the upcoming summit between Trump and Kim.
    Federal agents hold a detainee, second from left, at a downtown Los Angeles parking lot after predawn raids that saw dozens of people arrested in the L.A. area Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. U.S. authorities have unsealed a 252-count federal grand jury indictment charging 80 people with participating in a conspiracy to steal millions of

    Porto Velho, Brazil (CNN)The smoke is so thick, at times the Cessna airplane had to climb to stay out of it. At times your eyes burn and you close the air vents to keep the cabin habitable. Sometimes it is so bad, it is hard to see how bad it actually is on the ground below.Flying above the Amazon's worst afflicted state (during last week), Rondonia, is exhausting mostly because of the endless scale of the devastation. At first, smoke disguised the constant stream of torched fields, and copses; of winding roads that weaved into nothing but ash. Below, the orange specks of a tiny fire might still rage, but much of the land appeared a mausoleum of the forest that once graced it.
    "This is not just a forest that is burning," said Rosana Villar of Greenpeace, who helped CNN arrange its flight over the damaged and burning areas. "This is almost a cemetery. Because all you can see is death."
    The stark reality of the destruction is otherworldly: like a vision conjured by an alarmist to warn of what may come if the world doesn't address its climate crisis now. Yet it is real, and here, and now, and below us as we are scorched by the sun above and smoldering land below.
    This is not just a forest that is burning", said Greenpeace's Rosana Villar. "This is almost a cemetery. Because all you can see is death."
    "This is not just a forest that is burning", said Greenpeace's Rosana Villar. "This is almost a cemetery. Because all you can see is death."
    Rondonia has 6,436 fires burning so far this year in it, according to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE). NASA says the state has become one of the most deforested states in the Amazon. Brazil has 85% more fires burning than this time last year -- up to 80,626 nationwide as of Sunday night. President Jair Bolsonaro, after being scolded, called a liar, and threatened with trade sanctions by some leaders of the G7, declared on Friday he would send 43,000 troops to combat the Amazon's inferno. (He had previously fired the director of INPE for releasing figures he didn't agree with, and in his Friday speech still said the Amazon should be used to enrich Brazil's people).
    Yet while the Amazonian city of Porto Velho reels from a cloud of smoke that blights its mornings, and from the occasional C130 cargo plane buzzing overhead, the forest around it that we flew over showed no sign of an increased military presence Sunday.
    The Brazilian state of Rondonia has 6,436 fires burning so far this year in it, according to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE).
    The Brazilian state of Rondonia has 6,436 fires burning so far this year in it, according to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE).
    The task is enormous, almost insurmountable. In the areas where the smoke it most intense, the sun barely creeps through to shine off the river. I saw one bird in this natural sanctuary in three hours. Flames seem to move in a steadfast line across the savannah, swallowing whole what forest remains in their path. There are the occasional buildings, isolated in the newly created farmland around them. But no signs of human life, just cattle, caught in the swirling clouds and flame. They are often the reason for the fires: the rush to deforest sparked by a growing global market for beef. Cattle need soy grown on the fields, or to graze on the grass, and then become the beef Brazil sells to China, now a trade war with the United States has changed the market.
    The reason for the fires is disputed, but not that convincingly from this height. Bolsonaro has said that they are part of the usual annual burn, in this, the dry season. But his critics, many of them scientists, have noted the government's policy of encouraging deforestation has boosted both the land clearance that helps fires rage, and given the less scrupulous farmer license to burn.
    As the rate of land clearance reaches one and a half football fields a minute -- the statistics for the damage done to the forest emulate the incomprehensible mystery of its vanishing beauty -- many analysts fear a tipping point is nearing.
    The more forest is cleared, the less moisture is held beneath its canopy, and the drier the land gets. The drier the land gets, the more susceptible it is to fire. The more fire, the less forest. A self-fulfilling cycle has already begun. The question is when it becomes irreversible.
    Brazil is already dealing with the likelihood of permanent changes to its ecology. "The Amazon is extremely fundamental for the water system all over the continent," said Villar from Greenpeace. "So if we cut off the forest we are some years not going to have rain on the south of the country."
    It is hard to see any claims of future doom as alarmist, when you see skylines rendered invisible by smoke, flames march across the plains like lava, and hear disinterested taxi drivers tell you they have never seen it so bad. The apocalyptic future is here, and it is impatient.

    Last modified on Monday, 26 August 2019 12:17

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