Playing Politics While Forests Burn

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“Some people just want to watch the world burn”. It seems as if this Generation Z saying applies to those who are supposed to be making decisions on behalf of certain countries. Over the past couple of weeks, the world has been rocked by news that the Amazon rainforest is on fire. Nearly two thousand fires are currently burning and the overall trend points to an increase in fires in general. The latest spate of blazes has the attention of most because the Amazon, as the world’s largest rainforest, is seen as a vital carbon store that will help slow the pace of global warming.

Yet, while this vital resource burns, governments are playing politics. Last week, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro admitted to the fires, but said his country lacked the resources to tackle them properly. Then, on the heels of calls for an international response, leaders of the seven leading industrial nations offered $22m to help. This however was rejected by the Brazilian President, who first wanted an apology from the French President who reportedly called Mr Bolsonaro a liar who was doing less for the environment that he said he was. Other Brazilian Ministers have also accused the G7 of treating Brazil like “a colony or a no-man’s land” and are suspicious of what this aid might cost them in the future. On Wednesday came the news that the aid would be considered.

This schoolyard bickering is happening while a valuable rainforest is up in flames! The Amazon crosses several boundaries, but lays mostly in Brazil. Its value however is global. Why then does the Brazilian Government not see that it will of course be a concern for other world leaders? At the same time, history is dotted with examples of countries using disasters and over calamitous events to stake an underhanded claim in other countries. So to an extent, their suspicions are understandable. But why, during this significant threat, are countries wrangling politics? Why can’t it just be stipulated that in the interest of time, condition-free assistance will be given? After all, it is in the global interest.

Finally though, it seems as if the focus is a bit misplaced. The Amazon fires are in the headlines as they should be. But another major rainforest is also suffering. The Congolese rainforest is the world’s second largest tropical forest, spanning six countries. It too is suffering from fires, more than the Amazon in fact. Forests in Angola and Central America are also being destroyed by fire. Where is the attention for those? Where is the urgency? The French President recently stated that initiatives are also being examined with regard to Africa, but again, things just seem to be moving so slow, bogged down by the politics of it all. Hopefully, by the time agreements are reached and action is taken, there are still forests to save.