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Saturday 21 September 2019

Brazil bans most burning for 60 days to curb Amazon fires

Recent fires have devastated parts of the Amazon region.

The new ban coincides with the dry season (Victor R Caivano/AP)
The new ban coincides with the dry season (Victor R Caivano/AP)

By Anna Jean Kaiser, Associated Press

Brazil has banned most legal fires for land-clearing for 60 days in an attempt to stop the burning that has devastated parts of the Amazon.

The decree prohibiting the fires was signed by President Jair Bolsonaro and followed international criticism of his handling of the environmental crisis.

The period of the new ban coincides with the dry season, when most fires are usually set. The decree allows fires in some cases, including those deemed healthy for plant life and if set by indigenous people who engage in subsistence farming.

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Jair Bolsonaro (Eraldo Peres/AP)

The 60-day ban will help curb the burning but its effect could be “very limited” if people ignore it as the peak burning season starts, said Xiangming Xiao, a plant ecologist at the University of Oklahoma who studies deforestation in the Amazon.

Most fires in Brazil are set in late August, September and early October, he said.

“Both legal and illegal fire events occurred in Brazil. It will be very challenging to identify and separate them,” he said.

There are also questions about how effectively Brazil can enforce the 60-day ban. A letter released this week and signed by more than 500 workers from environmental agency IBAMA said a lack of government support had hurt their work and led to an increase in environmental crimes in the Amazon and elsewhere.

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Fires across the Brazilian Amazon have sparked an international outcry for preservation of the world’s largest rainforest (Leo Correa/AP)

Brazil’s forest code normally allows farmers and others to set some fires as long as they have licences from environmental authorities.

This year there was a sharp increase in fires over the same period in 2018, raising concerns that people were emboldened to burn more after Mr Bolsonaro said rainforest protections were blocking economic development.

The president suggested — without citing evidence — that environmental groups were setting illegal fires to try to destabilise his government and sparred with French President Emmanuel Macron and other European leaders who questioned his commitment to protecting the Amazon ecosystem.

The acrimony sidelined a pledge of 20 million dollars from the G7 nations to help protect rainforest in the Amazon. Much of the burned land had already been deforested, but the location of many fires next to intact forest reflected the increased threat of deforestation.

In a speech on Thursday, Mr Bolsonaro thanked Donald Trump “for defending Brazil at the G7”, an apparent reference to complimentary tweets from the US president as the Brazilian leader was being criticised by Mr Macron and others.

The fires, often set to open land for pasture, have led to some economic fallout. VF Corporation, a US holding company for shoe and clothing brands, said it will stop buying Brazilian leather and hides.

The company, whose brands include Vans, North Face and Timberland, said it will not buy again “until we have the confidence and assurance that the materials used in our products do not contribute to environmental harm in the country”.

The Amazon rainforest is vital for the planet’s health in part because it drains heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

PA Media

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