As the wildfires rage in the Amazon rainforest, growing global attention has ignited a bitter dispute about who is the blame for the threat to "the lungs of the planet."
The fires have become a political debate as Brazil’s government complained Thursday that it is being targeted in a smear campaign by critics and traded jabs on social media with international leaders.
French President Emmanuel Macron called the wildfires an "international crisis" and on Friday accused Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro of lying about his commitment to curbing climate change.
"Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest — the lungs which produces 20% of our planet's oxygen — is on fire," Macron tweeted Thursday, urging the leaders of the Group of 7 nations to hold urgent discussions about fires at their summit in France this weekend.
Bolsonaro fired back with his own tweet Thursday: "I regret that Macron seeks to make personal political gains in an internal matter for Brazil and other Amazonian countries. The sensationalist tone he used does nothing to solve the problem."
The lungs of the planet: The Amazon is burning and smoke from the fires can be seen from space
How have the Amazon fires become a political issue?
More international leaders were pushing back against Bolsonaro after he claimed that there was a “strong indication” that some non-governmental groups caused the fires after losing state funds under his administration.
A statement from Macron's office Friday said the president "can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him during the Osaka Summit," a G-20 meeting in June where climate change was discussed.
"The decisions and statements from Brazil these recent weeks show clearly that President Bolsonaro has decided to not respect his commitments on the climate," the statement continued.
Macron also said he now opposed a trade deal between the EU and the Mercosur bloc of South American nations that includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.
International groups chimed in on the issue, too. London-based Amnesty International placed blame on the Brazilian government for the raging wildfires.
"Instead of spreading outrageous lies or denying the scale of deforestation taking place, we urge the president to take immediate action to halt the progress of these fires," said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty's secretary general.
The rights group this year documented illegal land invasions and arson attacks near indigenous territories in the Amazon, including Rondonia state, where many fires are burning.
The World Wildlife Fund conservation group also challenged Bolsonaro's allegations about NGOs, saying the comments divert "the focus of attention from what really matters: the well-being of nature and the people of the Amazon."
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.
However, Onyx Lorenzoni, Bolsonaro's chief of staff, accused European countries of exaggerating environmental problems in Brazil in order to disrupt its commercial interests.
"There is deforestation in Brazil, yes, but not at the rate and level that they say," said Lorenzoni, according to the Brazilian news website globo.com.
The debate came as Brazilian federal experts reported a record number of wildfires across the country this year, up 84% over the same period in 2018. Satellite images show smoke from the Amazon reaching across the Latin American continent to the Atlantic coast and Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
Sergio Bergman, Argentina's environment minister, appealed for people to overcome political or ideological divisions to protect the environment. He spoke at a five-day U.N. workshop on climate change in Brazil's northern state of Bahia.
"We all, in a way, understand that it is not possible to keep using natural resources without limits," Bergman said.
What do the fires mean for climate change?
Brazil contains about 60% of the Amazon rainforest, and its degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall.
Robert Brinkmann, professor of geology, environment and sustainability at Hofstra University, says losing the Amazon rainforest would be a "double whammy" to global warming as the vast vegetation acts as a "carbon sink."
By burning trees, the rainforest not only loses its ability to store carbon but is also releases more carbon into the atmosphere.
According to a 2014 NASA-led study, tropical forests absorb about about 1.4 billion metric tons of global carbon dioxide. Brinkmann says the Amazon rainforest absorbs about a quarter of that carbon.
"The Amazon is such a vast area and there has already been so much destruction," Brinkmann said. "To see whats happening right now is heart breaking."
Brazil's National Institute of Space Research said there have been 74,155 fires in the Amazon this year as of Tuesday, according to its satellite data.
"The Amazon is the biggest storer of tropical carbon in the world, and if that goes up into the sky it’s going to be impossible to meet the climate goals that we’re trying to establish," said Adrian Forsyth, co-founder of Amazon Conservation Association.
How you can help the Amazon rainforest
Putting out massive wildfires in the Amazon is "basically impossible." They'll run their course until they run out of chopped down trees to burn. Forsyth says the best way to stop a crisis like this is for strict government protection of the land.
However, Nigel Sizer, chief program officer of Rainforest Alliance, says that one way people can help is by donating to Brazilian environmental groups.
WWF is urging the public to identify the parts of the Amazon that need the most help and support services that reduce fires and provide emergency relief.
They also have an existing petition that calls on the UK government to put the Amazon wildfires on the G-7 summit agenda in France this weekend.
"We must take every opportunity to protect and restore our forests, so that they can protect us," the conservation group says on its website.
Contributing: Elizabeth Lawrence and Ryan Miller, USA TODAY; The Associated Press. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Amazon rainforest fire is 'international crisis,' Emmanuel Macron says