Caroline Lucas MP: The Amazon rainforest must not be sacrificed on the altar of free trade with Europe
European leaders, signed off the EU-Mercosur deal in June this year, a trade agreement between the EU and Latin American countries where Brazil is the biggest player, without insisting on measures to protect the rainforest. The EU should be looking at its own role in creating this crisis, says Caroline Lucas MP.
The images of the Amazon rainforest burning are truly terrifying, with smoke clouds covering huge swathes of south America.
This is not just a forest going up in flames, it’s also the ancestral home of large numbers of indigenous peoples who are literally watching their homes burn. And it’s the lungs of the Earth. Destruction of the Amazon, the world’s largest land-based carbon sink, would be a human rights disaster and absolutely catastrophic for habitable life on this planet.
Fires in the Amazon are not uncommon but they have nearly doubled this year. And the dry season has yet to start. A fifth of the Amazon has already disappeared in the last 50 years. Losing another fifth could trigger a “feedback loop” which would lead to the forest drying out and eventually collapsing.
That wouldn’t just mean the end of a rainforest. It would mean the loss of an ecosystem which provides 20 percent of our oxygen.
We would be kidding ourselves if we put our trust in Brazil’s right-wing, pro-business president Jair Bolsonaro to protect it.
This is a man who takes his environmental cue from Donald Trump, who’s described climate change as a hoax. Except he seems determined to be even worse. If Bolsonaro hasn’t actually set these fires himself, he has done everything to encourage the ranchers to clear the forests for beef cattle and soya.
It’s no coincidence that the unprecedented surge in wildfires has happened since Bolsonaro took office in January with the declared aim to developing the Amazon region for farming and mining.
Since then the city of Sao Paulo has been plunged into daytime darkness and the city of Manaus is shrouded in thick smoke. Bolsonaro’s response has been to lie and joke about the extent of the fires, sack the head of the Brazilian space agency which first revealed the scale of them, and then blame NGOs for setting them.
But it is not only Bolsonaro who bears responsibility for this disaster. The EU should be looking at its own role in creating this crisis.
President Macron has tweeted that “our house is burning … it is an international crisis” and wants to push the Amazon fires to the top of the agenda at the G7 summit in Biarritz this weekend.
This is the same President Macron who, along with other European leaders, signed off the EU-Mercosur deal in June this year, a trade agreement between the EU and Latin American countries where Brazil is the biggest player, without insisting on measures to protect the rainforest.
This deal, the largest trade agreement in the EU’s history, will give South American farmers access to European food markets, creating added incentives for Brazilian ranchers to burn down yet more rainforest to supply beef to European consumers.
It’s not just the EU. The UK government is rushing to secure a post-Brexit trade deal with Brazil. The minister for international trade, Conor Burns, was in Brasilia this week, looking to expand trade and investment partnerships. Did the issue of the Amazon fires even get raised in his meetings?
The EU-Mercosur agreement has yet to be ratified by the European Parliament and it is vital that MEPs block it to send a message to the Bolsonaro regime that the Amazon rainforest must not be sacrificed on the altar of free trade with Europe.
Brazilians and indigenous people are already fighting back – the Brazilian environment minister was heckled at a recent meeting. Protests are taking place at Brazilian embassies around the world, including London. This is not, as Bolsonaro claims, an issue only for Brazil. It is an issue for all of us. This is our planet and we cannot stand by and watch it being burned.
Caroline Lucas in Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion.