Disasters like the Amazon rainforest fires will be virtually impossible to fight once we’re out of the EU

Alexandra Phillips

If we ever needed a reminder of how precious the environment is, this week’s fires in the Amazon rainforest are it.

The rainforest has reportedly been on fire for up to three weeks and it’s still raging – caused, supposedly, by people who want to illegally deforest land to raise cattle.

The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is home to a million indigenous people and about three million species of plants and animals.

While the heartbreak of seeing homes go up in smoke is unbearable, the ecological and environmental ramifications of such a disaster is terrifying for everyone. The Amazon provides 20 per cent of the world’s oxygen – it’s a resource we cannot afford to lose, particularly when we’re witnessing a clean air catastrophe.

9,000 people die prematurely in London every year due to air pollution. And air pollution in some parts of the UK is up to five times over the EU limit.

We are already contravening EU law but consider how much bigger our clean air violations could become if we leave Europe.

Equally, the EU has a mammoth job on its hands in meeting its zero net carbon target by 2050. The only way we can hold it to account is by staying politically involved. Brexit will mean that no one can safeguard us against our dangerously high levels of pollution while also forbidding us the chance to make sure that the EU is really doing its bit for cleaner air.

Much of my work as an MEP is concerned with pushing through a Green New Deal, which would see the creation of secure, well-paid jobs within green industries.

Employment and job creation is absolutely fundamental to fighting climate change, which is why I sit on both the Employment and Environmental committees in Brussels.

A Green New Deal will kick-start the economy in two ways: by ending austerity via a commitment to the biggest investment we have ever seen in renewable energies and energy efficiency measures, and tackling the climate crisis head-on. The two are intertwined. You can’t commit to creating more jobs that will directly contribute towards tackling the climate crisis without also making a positive impact on the environment.

By putting jobs at the forefront of the discussion around climate change, we can do things to ensure that vulnerable members of society live in properly insulated housing. Something as simple as investing in effective insulation would create more jobs and ensure that fewer people have to stay in accommodation that is too hot or cold for a good standard of living.

Wildfires often occur during the dry season in Brazil but it's thought that these catastrophic fires were man-made.

A logical solution would be to suggest that we all stop eating meat; if there’s no market for buying beef, say, then perhaps these arsonists wouldn’t go about setting fire to rainforests to make way for cattle rearing. But that’s way too simplistic – and difficult. We should all be cutting down on our meat consumption but responsibility can’t be on consumers alone.

And while the destruction of the Amazon poses significant issues for the world as we know it, it is just one of many natural resources being destroyed right now.

There have been unprecedented fires in the Arctic, we lost a glacier earlier this week to climate change and half of the Great Barrier Reef is dead.

The climate crisis is here and now and we must have international governmental intervention to help deal with it. It’s not enough to get individuals to commit to Meat Free Mondays or to ditch the car once a week anymore – we need an international effort to offset these disasters and to ensure that they don’t keep happening.

Conservationists have blamed Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, for the Amazonian fires, claiming that he’s encouraged loggers and farmers to clear the land. Scientists say the rainforest has suffered losses at an accelerated rate since he took office in January.


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Again, there’s a big difference between Boris Johnson asking Bolsonaro to kindly cease and desist, and the EU Parliament petitioning Brazil to take urgent action.

If we’re serious about the environment, the UK has no option but to stay in Europe and adopt a Green New Deal so that we can stem the energy drain and put systems in place that would assure a sustainable future.

Not only do we have a louder voice when we join together with so many other countries, but we have the opportunity to make a practical difference. We can transform our job market to make it the greenest, fairest it’s ever been. There’s an opportunity here to be industry leaders in renewable energies and sustainable materials.

That’s why we must keep on fighting to remain at all costs.

Alexandra Phillips is Green MEP for the South East region