Amazon fire calls for emergency response and long-term mitigation
David Lee

Editor's note: David Lee is a consultant and author based in Beijing who focuses on energy, health, international politics and international development. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN. 

According to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the country's Amazon rainforest is currently facing record-breaking wildfires. Heart-wrenching images are occupying headlines across the world, spelling disaster for not only local populations and but also mankind.

The Amazon rainforest represents the basic livelihood of local populations. Beyond that, it comprises the largest and most biodiverse tract of tropical rainforest in the world. Scientific research indicates Amazonian evergreen forests account for about 20 to 25 percent of the carbon stores in our planet's ecosystem. The Amazon rainforest could become unsustainable as it is threatened by climate change, particularly increasing temperature, and deforestation.

As global populations are disturbed by the continuously raging Amazon fires, ire is growing against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's policy which favors business over conservation since his administration assumed office in January this year. Without any scientific evidence, Bolsonaro had earlier claimed the fires were caused by ranchers clearing land and blamed non-government organizations (NGOs) hostile to his presidency for making a fuss.

Fire burns in the Amazon rainforest in Porto Velho, Rondonia state, Brazil, August 24, 2019. /VCG Photo

Fire burns in the Amazon rainforest in Porto Velho, Rondonia state, Brazil, August 24, 2019. /VCG Photo

Such rhetoric by the Brazilian president would immediately backfire. 

As angry protests are taking place across neighboring South American nations, the trade deal negotiation between EU and Mercosur, the South American trade block of which Brazil is a key member, is being disrupted as European leaders including France's Emmanuel Macron are accusing Brazil of "lying" on climate commitments. The Amazon fires may become a topic at the upcoming G7 summit too.

Amid global ire and under pressure, Bolsonaro has announced he'd consider sending troops to fight the fires, though he also tweeted to say Macron's action was for "political gains." Meanwhile, Brazil is enlisting the support by volunteer firefighters across its Amazon region. 

Sadly, what we've witnessed since the Amazon fires doesn't tell a story of effective emergency response, let alone any meaningful long-term mitigation.

By effective emergency response, I mean serious, scientifically-sound efforts to fight the ongoing fires. If Brazilian troops are indeed sent in, do they have the professional skills to do the job? The same question should be asked about the volunteers being enlisted too.

While Brazil as a nation must take country ownership of the emergency response effort, what can the global community do to help Brazilians? Would there be any support – equipment, technology, human resources, anything – to fight large-scale wildfires?

As leaders of the seven wealthy industrialized nations meet in France, will they offer meaningful help to fight the fires? Well, after dusts settle down following emotional calls to eat less meat and block beef imports from Brazil, produce closely linked with land clearing in the Amazon, I do hope much needed concrete help will be offered. 

Of course, even as emergency response measures are being taken, we must have the vision for long-term mitigation, which must be based on the combination of good science, strong political will, and effective policy measures.

Understanding that a framework is already there that takes into account the effect of climate change, any meaningful long-term mitigation must follow the United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests 2030, which envisions concrete, sustainable efforts to halt deforestation and enhance forest resilience to natural disasters, including wildfires.

Building on such framework, with hope for near zero-deforestation on a global scale, the next steps will be crucial as developed and developing countries define roles and responsibilities. Particularly, there must be comprehensive negotiations with countries that host primary forests to define roles and responsibilities, with the global community offering necessary help to support conservation.

From devastating wildfires breaking out in Brazil to huge chunks of ice falling off into the Arctic Ocean, hugely disturbing images have sounded the clarion call for mankind to take action to save our planet. I hope recent events will give new urgency to the next session of the United Nations Forum on Forests to take place in May next year, which may open up a new chapter to reverse the loss of forest cover worldwide.

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