Ireland threatens to oppose Mercosur trade deal amid Amazon fires

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“the lungs of the Earth are in flames.”

PM Leo Varadkar asks Jair Bolsonaro’s government to ‘honor its environmental commitments.’

As wildfires rage through the Brazilian Amazon, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said Dublin will vote against a trade deal between the European Union and South American trade bloc Mercosur unless Brazil takes action to protect the rainforest.

Varadkar said in a statement he was very concerned at the record levels of rainforest destruction, and said the Irish government would closely monitor Brazil’s environmental actions in the two years until the Mercosur deal is ratified.

“There is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement if Brazil does not honor its environmental commitments,” he said.

Vast tracts of the Amazon are currently ablaze in what is known as the burning season. Environmentalists have blamed deforestation for an increase in fires and accuse Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro on cutting protection of an area deemed crucial in combating climate change.

Varadkar said Bolsonaro’s effort to blame non-government environmental organizations for the fires was “Orwellian”.

Ireland would need other EU states to help form a blocking minority if it wants to kill the deal, reached in June after 20 years of negotiations between the EU and the Mercosur countries of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

But the Irish government is under pressure to defend its beef farmers, already suffering from Britain’s looming EU exit and low prices, by seeking to ensure Mercosur countries to do flood the market with cheaper beef.

Monitor closely

“The Mercosur deal is two years away from a vote on approval in Europe,” Mr Varadkar said.

“During the course of these two years, we will monitor closely Brazil’s environmental actions. There is no way we can tell Irish and European farmers to use fewer pesticides, less fertilizer, embrace biodiversity and plant more of their land and expect them to do it, if we do not make trade deals contingent on decent environmental, labour and product standards. The political agreement on Mercosur does that. We’ll monitor closely if they mean it,” the Taoiseach said.

Varadkar adds his voice to growing international concern over the Amazon’s destruction. French President Emmanuel Macron wants the issue to be discussed at the G7 summit in Biarritz this weekend. Bolsonaro has rejected what he calls foreign interference in Brazil’s affair.

RIO DE JANEIRO

As dozens of fires scorched large swaths of the Amazon, the Brazilian government Thursday struggled to contain growing global outrage over its environmental policies, which have paved the way for runaway deforestation of the world’s largest rainforest.

The fires, many intentionally set, are spreading as Germany and Norway appear to be on the brink of shutting down a US$1.2 billion (RM5 billion) conservation initiative for the Amazon.

Norway and Germany have been helping support the Brazilian government for its efforts to reduce deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest for some 10 years now. These financial rewards—the annual donations to the Amazon Fund, which the Brazilian Development Bank manages—have amounted to nearly $1.3 billion.

Now, that funding is coming to an end because Brazil has been failing miserably at protecting the Amazon Rainforest as of late, which is the whole point of this money. Unfortunately, many conservation-based projects (run by universities or nonprofits) that aim to reforest the land or, perhaps, train locals to fight wildfires will lose much-needed funding. That may deal yet another blow to the world’s largest rainforest, which is already suffering under the leadership of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.

Barely a week after Germany announced it was cutting $39 million in funding for the Amazon Fund, Norway announced the same Friday. The Norwegian government has given more than $1 billion to this fund, which has disbursed money to more than 100 projects dedicated to supporting conservation and sustainability in the Amazon.

German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze had announced that Germany would withhold €35 million ($39 million) in funding for Amazon support projects because of the clear-cutting that has been enabled in the first seven months of the president’s economically liberal regime. Bolsonaro, who would like to put an end to protected regions in the Amazon altogether, has previously accused Germany of attempting to “snaffle” Brazil by withholding financing.

Here’s the thing, though: The fund’s donation system wasn’t exactly set up to encourage more anti-deforestation efforts but rather to reward Brazil’s previous successes at reducing deforestation. Reducing deforestation not only has local environmental benefits but climate ones as well. Norway and Germany—the only state governments that donate to the fund—issued their donations because of the Brazilian government efforts in securing those results, explained Paulo Brando, an associate professor at the University of California at Irvine’s Department of Earth System Science who studies the Amazon for the Woods Hole Research Center. These days, deforestation has been increasing in the Brazilian Amazonia, and these donors aren’t happy.

Concern over the environmental policies of President Jair Bolsonaro, which have prioritised the interests of industries that want greater access to protected lands, has also put in jeopardy a trade agreement the European Union and a handful of South American nations struck in June, following decades of negotiations.

Photos of the fires have been shared by NASA, politicians and celebrities this week, setting off a call on social media to #PrayForAmazon.

Concern about the forest has grown even more since Bolsonaro took office in January. The Brazilian leader doesn’t want to designate any further protected areas, pledging instead to allow more clearances and make more economic use of the Amazon region.

The former military officer also scorns any advice from abroad.

The lungs of the Earth are in flames.

Amazon deforestation from 1985 to 2017

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio called on his nearly 34 million Instagram followers to become more environmentally conscious in a post warning that “the lungs of the Earth are in flames.”

 

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