At the G7 summit in France, world leaders pledged millions to help fight the raging wildfires in the Amazon rainforest, but experts say the task requires both money and political will.
The wildfires were a key topic at the Biarritza summit, which was held amid global outrage over the situation. Thousands of fires in the Amazon rainforest have been burning for several weeks.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would give $15 million to help combat the fires. A separate commitment of US$20 million was also made by the G7 conglomerate.
Trudeau said Canada will send water bombers to Brazil, noting that Canada has also faced an increasing number of wildfires and “there is a global network of support and friends that lean on each other.”
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Differences between Canadian and Amazonian fires
However, University of British Columbia professor Karen Hodges told Global News that the Amazon wildfires are different in nature than the ones Canadians are familiar with.
Wildfires in B.C. and Alberta happen in a “radically different ecosystem,” Hodges said, noting they are part of the way forests evolve. In the Amazon rainforest, wildfires are not normal but man-made.
“This is a very different kind of disturbance than what we get in Canada,” Hodges said.
One key difference is that wildfires in Canada have been much larger and difficult to control. In the Amazon, they are individually smaller, but there are many more of them.
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For example, the 2018 wildfire season in British Columbia left a record 1,354,284 hectares of land burned by 2,117 fires. The total cost of that wildfire suppression was $615 million.
Brazil’s National Space Research Institute, which monitors deforestation, has recorded more than 77,000 wildfires in Brazil this year, a record since the institute began keeping records in 2013. There are roughly 40,000 fires currently burning.
It’s unclear how much the total cost of putting out the Amazon fires will be.
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Kathryn Hochstetler, a professor of international development at the London School of Economics and Political Science, explained that means putting out the Amazon fires is less of a purely “fire-fighting challenge.”
“That is less a fire-fighting challenge that requires large sums of money than it is a political challenge.”
Hodges also noted that a real solution to the Amazon fires requires a change in policy.
“You need good laws and you need to enforce them. That needs money and political will,” Hodges explained. “What the global community is really concerned about over the last year is that political will seems to be lacking in Brazil right now.”
Brazil’s environmental agencies have hit by funding cuts under President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration.
Bolsonaro’s government has also feuded with Norway and Germany, which has led to a cut in international aid. Germany and Norway, citing Brazil’s apparent lack of commitment to fighting deforestation, decided to withhold more than $60 million in funds earmarked for sustainability projects in Brazilian forests.
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Hochstetler explained these factors have made it difficult to monitor the fires, and funds from other countries could help mitigate the problems.
“If the pledge can be used for such monitoring and enforcement, it would be very useful and responsive to the political challenge,” she said.
Hodges added that money and political will are needed beyond just putting out the fires, but also during the “decades” it could take to deal with damage caused them.
— With files from The Canadian Press