An environmental group wants the Canadian government to halt trade talks with Brazil and its far-right president Jair Bolsonaro over their failure to take action and accept global support to help combat the thousands of forest fires ravaging the Amazon rainforests.
“We are in a climate emergency and so we need to have leaders who are going to take it seriously and want to work co-operatively with others around the world,” said Gretchen Fitzgerald, program director with the Sierra Club of Canada.
This week, the Brazilian president refused an international support offer of US$20 million from participating G7 countries to combat the amazon forest fires.
Fitzgerald said that refusal illustrates the Bolsonaro administration’s indifference to protecting the Amazon and shows they look at the rainforest as a commodity from which to profit.
As a result, the Sierra Club wants to pressure Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to halt trade talks with Brazil and force Bolsonaro to change its policies that threaten the tropical rainforest.
“If we are a part of that in some ways through free trade, taking advantage of Brazil’s regime of deregulation, then we need to step up and stop trade negotiations until some real steps on the part of Brazil are made to protect the Amazon,” said Fitzgerald.
The Amazon rainforest is often described as the “lungs of the Earth,” as it has the capacity to absorb massive levels of carbon dioxide and in turn produce upwards of 20 percent of the planet’s oxygen.
WATCH: Amazon fires continue to burn as Bolsonaro rages against Macron
The damage to the Amazon doesn’t just harm the environment but poses a threat to Indigenous people in Brazil as well.
Barbara Zimmerman is the director of the Kayapo Project at the International Conservation Fund of Canada, which works directly with the Kayapo Indigenous tribe in the Brazilian Amazon to help them defend their traditional lands.
Zimmerman says the attempts to clear their land for ranching and clear-cutting for logging and gold mining are a constant threat to the Kayapo people. They total around 10,000 in population and inhabit a 110,000-square kilometre range in the southeastern region of the Amazon rainforest, which is under direct threat of deforestation.
“Their lands are extremely important for conservation and as well, of course, the immense amounts of carbon that are sequestered in those primary forest trees and the other aqua system services that are provided by this land area that they protect,” said Zimmerman.
It’s important to point out that forest fires in the Amazon aren’t like forest fires in Canada, says Zimmerman.
“Forest fires there in the Amazon or anywhere in the tropics are caused by cutting down the trees,” she said, “and leaving them to dry in the sun and then torching them in the dry season.”
The Sierra Club of Canada says if these are man-made fires in the Amazon, then it’s up to the political will and lawmakers of Brazil to stop the fires and deforestation projects to protect the Earth and ecosystem.