Macron Riles Bolsonaro, Setting Up G-7 Fight Over Amazon Fires

Helene Fouquet
Macron Riles Bolsonaro, Setting Up G-7 Fight Over Amazon Fires

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Emmanuel Macron said Group of Seven leaders gathering in Biarritz, France, Saturday must tackle head on the fires in the Amazon jungle, establishing the summit’s first flash point.

“Our house is burning. Literally,” the French president wrote in a tweet late Thursday. “It is an international crisis.” He plans to introduce the topic in his opening remarks at the informal dinner on Saturday, and it will be the first topic of discussion on Monday.

But by placing the environmental emergency at the top of the G-7 agenda, he risks a geopolitical fight he cannot win if he tries to prise a response to from Donald Trump, who has already pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord and is a long-term skeptic on threats to the environment.

Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro, who has echoed Trump’s approach on environmental issues, has already reacted angrily. He said that discussing the fires without his country’s involvement showed a “colonial mentality that isn’t appropriate for the 21st century.”

“I regret that President Macron is seeking to use the internal matters of Brazil and other Amazon countries for political gain,” Bolsonaro said in a tweet.

France and Brazil have history when it comes to the Amazon. In the 1980s, Francois Mitterrand provoked outrage in South America when he suggested Brazil cede sovereignty over parts of the rain forest arguing that it was the heritage of all humanity. Brazil’s concerns about its sovereignty over the Amazon were a key turning point in environmental politics ahead of the 1992 Rio environmental summit.

Brazilians are, on the whole, more accepting of international concerns these days. But with mounting criticism of the record number of fires this year, the government in Brasilia is getting defensive.

While Macron is trying to rally a global response to the climate emergency, Trump has been working to roll back restrictions on CO2 emissions in the U.S. This week he attacked automakers for their opposition to a plan to ease fuel efficiency requirements.

The French leader is sure to find an ally in Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Germany’s Angela Merkel. Merkel already had a run-in with Bolsonaro at June’s G-20 in Osaka after she criticized his environmental policy and cut financial aid for the Amazon. Bolsonaro told Merkel that she had an obsession with the environment and she should use the money for reforestation in Germany.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Friday that Merkel backs Macron’s call because the "alarming and threatening" burning of the Amazon, is an international issue. U.K. Prime minister Boris Johnson’s spokeswoman, Alison Donnelly, told reporters in London said he is "extremely concerned" and would use the G-7 to call for a "renewed focus on protecting nature and tackling climate change.”

But the configuration of the G-7 right now will make it difficult for Macron to make headway. Trump famously ripped up last year’s communique and does not want to be cornered. Johnson is eager to tighten his bond with Trump and at odds with European allies over Brexit. Italy is mired in a messy political crisis at home and has no prime minister. Japan is unlikely to stick its neck out -- it is more concerned about the potential fallout from the U.S. trade war with China.

All this points to Macron winding up isolated on the issue if he tries to achieve anything meaningful on the fires. A French official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they couldn’t pre-judge what Trump’s position will be -- or indeed what concrete action could be taken by the group.

(Updates with Johnson’s spokeswoman.)

--With assistance from Ben Sills, Arne Delfs, Alex Morales and Bill Faries.

To contact the reporter on this story: Helene Fouquet in Paris at hfouquet1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson at fjackson@bloomberg.net, Ben Sills

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