ROMAN CATHOLIC bishops in Latin America have called on the international community to act to save the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, which is threatened by wildfires.
On the eve of the G7 meeting in Biarritz, in France, this weekend, the coordinating body of Latin American bishops’ conferences issued a statement pressing governments and the UN to save what they describe as “the lung of the world”. It emphasises the planetary significance of the Amazon and “the seriousness of this tragedy, whose impact is not merely local, or even regional, but planetary in scale”.
The Bishops write: “To our brothers and sisters of the indigenous peoples who live in this beloved territory we express our closeness and unite our voices with theirs to cry out to the world for solidarity and prompt attention to halt this devastation.
“Amazonia is a region rich in biodiversity, it is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious, a mirror of humanity which, to defend life, calls for structural and personal changes from all human beings, states, and the Church. This situation goes beyond the sphere of the Church in the Amazon because it addresses the universal Church and the future of the whole planet. What happens in the Amazon is not a local matter, but has global reach. If the Amazon suffers, the world suffers.”
Satellite data published by the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research indicates that 75,000 forest fires were recorded in Brazil in the first eight months of the year, an 85-per-cent increase on the same period last year. Most of them are in the Amazon region.
Blame for the fires have been widely ascribed to the recently elected Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, who has encouraged loggers and farmers to clear the land. He has since dismissed the Institute’s head and this week denounced the French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for the G7 to discuss the fires as indicative of “a colonialist mentality”.
President Bolsonaro has previously suggested that environmental NGOs might have started the fires to attract foreign funding, although he has since admitted that he had no evidence for that.
On Friday, the European Commission’s chief spokeswoman, Mina Andreeva, backed President Macron. She said: “The Commission is deeply worried. The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and contains one tenth of the world’s species. The sense of urgency is, indeed, warranted.”
She suggested that pressure could be brought on Brazil through the EU-Mercosur free-trade deal, which includes binding commitments to implement the Paris climate agreement. “It is a way of working with Brazil and others to push and encourage each other to live up to the commitments we have made together in the Paris Agreement and work together on other environmental issues.”
In a statement published by USPG on Friday, the Anglican Bishop of the diocese of the Amazon, the Rt Revd Martinez Bassotto, spoke of “unprecedented devastation” and spoke out against President Bolsonaro:
“The total silence of the presidency of the republic [of Brazil] about these criminal burnings draws attention. Besides not acting to investigate and blame the culprits, the President of the Republic makes ironies about the situation of the Amazon, encourages deforestation and mining in the region, does not undertake environmental protection actions. His statements inform that he will deliver indigenous lands to exploration and agribusiness and still try to blame the NGOs responsible for environmental protection for the fires.”
A Downing Street spokeswoman said that the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was deeply concerned by the increase in fires and the loss of habitats: “The effect of these fires will be felt around the world, which is why we need international action to protect the world’s rainforests. The Prime Minister will use the G7 to call for a renewed focus on protecting nature and tackling climate change together.”
On Monday, it was announced that the British government would make £10 million immediately available “to help step up efforts to protect and restore the Amazon rainforest in Brazil — including in areas affected by the current fires.” The UK would double its contribution to the international Green Climate Fund, which was set up to help developing countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr Johnson said that, if the UK were to host the UN climate summit COP26 next year, a major focus would be “the solutions to climate change that can be found in nature — such as reforestation”.
Christian Aid’s Bolivia country manager, Emma Donlan, welcomed the funding announcement but urged the government “to ensure it is spent in a way that both fully supports the people of the Amazon and fully involves them in the process. This process must be led by the very people who are most affected.”
One million indigenous people lived in the Amazon, she pointed out, and “urgent action” was needed to protect those in most immediate danger as a result of the fires, who had “for years been on the frontline of protecting and defending this fragile ecosystem against destructive policies and practices in the forests.
“Christian Aid stands in solidarity with our local partners and environmental rights defenders across the Amazon, who often face intimidation and threats for speaking out protect the Amazon and fight for the rights of those who live there.”
The Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, summoned by Pope Francis, is due to take place in Rome in October. Christian Aid is among 79 faith-based organisations who have signed Somos las Amazonas, a declaration calling for protection of the rainforest and human rights defenders in the region.
The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, the Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment, spoke on Friday of “a climate emergency which does not know international boundaries. The Amazon is a global resource as well as a national one. In the last 36 hours, I have been asked to sign a variety of climate-related petitions and letters. People are concerned. So our politicians should be talking about it and finding ways to act collectively.
“The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. At the moment, there are so many initiatives to plant trees to help carbon capture. It is appalling to see such large areas of rainforest burn. They destroy more than the trees. They destroy hope.”
Aaron Kiely, a climate campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said that the deforestation of the Amazon was being accelerated under the Bolsonaro government, “which backs destructive industrial farming and logging. Bolsonaro has given the green light for the devastation of the Amazon by repeatedly weakening Brazil’s environmental protection policies.
“But there is hope as this weekend Brazilians are organising protests in defence of the Amazon in at least 40 cities. People and governments are right to express horror at the fires, and there should be strong diplomatic pressure put on Bolsonaro’s government to protect the lungs of our planet and the indigenous peoples who live there.”