French President Emmanuel Macron is calling on world leaders to place the massive fires destroying Brazil’s Amazon rainforest at the top of their agenda as they gather in France’s southwest for the Group of Seven summit.
“Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire,” Macron wrote in a tweet Thursday. “It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency first order in two days!”
France is hosting the summit in the city of Biarritz, on the Atlantic coast, which begins on Saturday. President Trump and leaders from Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom will also attend.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres echoed Macron’s statement, saying in a tweet that “we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity. The Amazon must be protected.”
An estimated 2,500 active fires in the Amazon have caused international concern, prompting a backlash against Brazil’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has described measures to protect the rainforest as “obstacles” to economic growth. Bolsonaro, who took office in January, has said repeatedly that he wants to open the Amazon to development.
Many of the fires are believed to have been set by farmers clearing land. Environmentalists say Bolsonaro’s attitude about the Amazon has encouraged the farmers, as well as cattle ranchers, loggers and miners.
Bolsonaro has said without evidence that there is a “very strong” indication that some nongovernmental organizations were setting the fires in retaliation for losing funding from his administration.
Both Germany and Norway have also weighed in on the fires, criticizing Bolsonaro’s lack of action and saying they would withhold $60 million in funds for sustainability projects in Brazil’s forests.
Onyx Lorenzoni, Bolsonaro’s chief of staff, on Thursday accused European countries of exaggerating environmental problems in an effort to stifle rainforest development.
“There is deforestation in Brazil, yes, but not at the rate and level that they say,” he said, according to the Brazilian news website globo.com.
In a tweet later on Thursday, Bolsonaro responded to Macron: “I regret that Macron seeks to make personal political gains in an internal matter for Brazil and other Amazonian countries. The sensationalist tone he used does nothing to solve the problem.”
Bolsonaro has also accused the media of hyping the fires to undermine him. “Most of the media wants Brazil to end up like Venezuela,” he said. Venezuela’s economy has collapsed over the past decade.
In an announcement this week by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, the agency said there have been 74,155 fires in the country so far this year – about half in the last month and most of them in the Amazon. That represents an 84% increase from the previous year.
Federal prosecutors in the Brazilian state of Para — one of the worst-hit areas — have announced an investigation into why there has been such a huge rise in wildfires this year.
Neighboring Bolivia has also struggled to contain the fires.