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G-7 nations pledge $40 million to fight Amazon fires

G-7 nations pledge $40 million to fight Amazon fires

The Group of Seven nations on Monday pledged tens of millions of dollars to help fight raging wildfires in the Amazon and protect its rainforest, even as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro accused rich countries of treating the region like a “colony.”

The international pledges at a G-7 summit in France included $20 million from the group, as well as a separate $12 million from Britain and $11 million from Canada. Ottawa has also offered to send firefighting planes to Brazil.

Other groups are contributing support for a region whose rainforests are a major absorber of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Earth Alliance, a new environmental foundation backed by Leonardo DiCaprio, is pledging $5 million in aid, saying the Amazon is one of the “best defenses” against climate change.

The funds are widely seen as critical support, but a relatively small amount for dealing with an environmental crisis of such scale threatening what French President Emmanuel Macron called “the lungs of the planet.”

More than $1 billion, for example, has been paid into a fund to help the Amazon in the past decade. And major donors Germany and Norway recently cut donations to Brazilian forestry projects, saying Bolsonaro’s administration isn’t committed to curbing deforestation.

It was unclear how exactly the new money would be administered. Bureaucracy can slow and reduce the amount that reaches programs in the field. Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, said the aid was welcome and that Brazil should decide how the resources are used.

More global funding and political will in Brazil will be needed once the fires are extinguished, said John Robinson, chief conservation officer at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Brazil needs “legislation and regulations that set clear limits preventing landowners — especially large ones — from burning the forest and converting it to agriculture and rangeland, backed by incentives and investment in alternatives,” Robinson said.

The international pledges came despite tensions between European countries and the Brazilian president, who suggested the West was angling to exploit Brazil’s natural resources.

“Look, does anyone help anyone … without something in return? What have they wanted there for so long?” Bolsonaro said.

Bolsonaro has insulted adversaries and allies, disparaged women, black and gay people, and praised his country’s 1964-1985 dictatorship. But nothing has rallied more anger at home and criticism from abroad than his response to the fires in parts of the Amazon region.

The Brazilian leader says he is committed to protecting the Amazon and prosecuting anyone involved in illegal fires, many of which appear to be to have been set in already deforested areas to clear land for farming.

But Bolsonaro initially questioned whether activist groups might have started the fires in an effort to damage the credibility of his government, which has called for looser environmental regulations in the world’s largest rainforest to spur development.