BRASILIA • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro yesterday said South American countries would meet to determine a common policy in defence of the Amazon rainforest, and took another swipe at France over a Group of Seven offer of US$20 million (S$28 million) in aid.
In an indication that Mr Bolsonaro, a far-right conservative, is forging closer ties with neighbouring countries than European nations, he also accepted Chile's offer of four aircraft to help fight the fires sweeping through the world's largest rainforest.
Speaking to journalists after a meeting with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera in Brasilia, Mr Bolsonaro said a meeting with regional neighbours except Venezuela to discuss a common policy in defence of the Amazon will be held on Sept 6 in the Colombian city of Leticia.
Mr Pinera offered his full backing to Mr Bolsonaro, saying the sovereignty of the nations that share the Amazon had to be respected, while Mr Bolsonaro said Brazil's sovereignty had "no price, not even US$20 trillion".
That was a reference to the offer of US$20 million in aid announced by French President Emmanuel Macron at a summit of the Group of Seven nations in Biarritz over the weekend, which Mr Bolsonaro dismissed as an insulting attempt to "buy" Brazil's sovereignty.
Mr Macron has accused Mr Bolsonaro, a long-time sceptic of environmental concerns, of lying about climate change.
"The French government called me a liar. Only after it has recanted what it said about me... and the Brazilian people, who do not accept this diminution of the Amazon's sovereignty... if so, then we can talk again," Mr Bolsonaro said.
Bolivia is also battling huge fires, which have burned about one million hectares of forest in the area bordering Brazil and Paraguay. President Evo Morales said he welcomed international aid and in recent days has stepped up efforts, including hiring the world's largest firefighting aircraft, the Boeing SuperTanker 747, from the United States.
The wildfires, which are also affecting Venezuela, Colombia, Peru and several other nations, represent a "tipping point" for the health of the Amazon rainforest, the head of a global forestry management body said yesterday, while urging the world to do more to save the trees. The situation in the Amazon is "very urgent", stressed Dr Gerhard Dieterle, executive director of the International Tropical Timber Organisation, an intergovernmental agency group that promotes sustainable forestry use.
"This is something that might affect the integrity of the Amazon as a whole, because if the forest fires spread, the grasslands become more prone to forest fires," said Dr Dieterle, on the sidelines of a conference on African development in Japan.
Many experts fear it may be a tipping point for the rainforest, as the latest figures show the total number of fires in Brazil since the start of the year at more than 83,300, even as military aircraft and troops help battle them. More than half of the fires are in the Amazon basin.
Some of the blazes are down to natural causes, Dr Dieterle said, but most are started deliberately by farmers clearing land for agriculture. "If tropical dense forests are affected by forest fires, they need many, many years to regroup. It will alter the climate, the local climate, the national climate and the regional climate. It will also have an influence on the global climate," said the forestry expert.