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Amazon fires challenge us to protect forests from unchecked development

The Yomiuri ShimbunLarge-scale forest fires could cause a rise in temperature, accelerate climate change and wreak havoc on the ecosystem. It is important for countries to cooperate in tackling this global challenge.

In the Amazon rain forest in Brazil, fires have been occurring frequently. The number of fires between January and August this year totaled about 47,000, about twice as many as during the same period last year. Fires have been occurring in the Amazon at a record pace since 2013.

The Amazon is called the “lungs of the earth,” as its forests play a role in absorbing the world’s carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen. It fosters a humid climate, making it a treasure house of biodiversity. It is feared that due to the fires, a massive amount of carbon dioxide has been released, impairing its ability to adjust the Earth’s climate system.

In a state in the central region of Brazil, a fire burned forests located in a wildlife reserve in the Amazon and the flames spread. A farmland operator was arrested on charges of setting the blazes to clear land for farming. A slash-and-burn method of agriculture is a usual practice during the dry season there, but such illegal acts are fueling the increase in the number of fires.

Behind this trend is the environmental policy of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January, of prioritizing development. Bolsonaro advocates easing environmental protection regulations and curtailing measures to protect indigenous people, while appealing to expand areas for farmland and mining. The government’s expenditures for monitoring illegal logging have been cut.

Rational responses needed

The Brazilian economy remains sluggish. Income disparities between urban and rural areas are also large. A policy designed to promote economic growth and correct income disparity can be understood. But its possible impact on the Amazon, the world’s largest rain forest, should not be viewed lightly.

Bolsonaro, who advocates a “country first” policy, is likened to U.S. President Donald Trump and is also known as the “Trump of Brazil.” He has also hammered out a policy of withdrawing Brazil from the Paris Accord on climate change.

The conspicuous discord between Brazil and developed nations is problematic.

Leaders from the Group of Seven countries decided at their summit held in late August in France to offer financial support of about ¥2.1 billion to help Brazil fight fires in the Amazon rain forest. French President Emmanuel Macron said that the “Amazon is our common good.”

Bolsonaro criticized the G7 nations for treating Brazil “like a colony,” and rejected the financial support at one point. He may have taken the rise of international criticism about his own policies as meddling in Brazil’s internal affairs.

Emotional conflicts will make it more difficult for the matter to be solved. Level-headed responses are needed.

Forest fires, accompanying economic development, have also been occurring frequently in Russia’s Siberia and Indonesia. Making development and environmental protection compatible is a challenge faced by both newly emerging and developing countries.

Developed countries, including Japan, should tenaciously continue support regarding policy, technology and finance, making use of their own experience.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 3, 2019)Speech



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