▲ Burning trees and brushes of Amazon, Provided by THE WASHINGTON POST
Once there was a hedge surrounding a vineyard. A son who inherited the vineyard thought that the hedge was useless as it did not bear any fruit. Hence, he tore down the hedge which only led to a vulnerability to other threats. The vineyard soon became a wasteland, and it was then that the son regretted not protecting the yard. This unfortunate story from Aesop’s fables brings to mind the Amazon fire, one of the most controversial international issues at present. The Amazon forest in ashes may become the vineyard, and the son may be the ones who failed to protect the meaningful forest.
The once green Amazon rainforest located in Brazil, has been caught in a critical fire. According to The Washington Post, the number of fires this year has nearly tripled that of last year. It is estimated that the current fires have affected more than 10,000 square miles of land. Millions of people around the world showed their concern for the burning Amazon in various ways, including the “Pray for the Amazon” campaign trending on social media. Although the catastrophe seems like a simple environmental problem at its surface, many intricate social and political issues are intertwined beneath the Amazon.
Amazon and the Earth at Risk
The cause of the Amazon destruction has not been clearly announced by the Brazilian government, but the majority of international environmental specialists state one phenomenon in common — deforestation. Deforestation is the action of clearing out a forest by causing an intentional fire in order to acquire land for agricultural purposes.
This has been a longstanding traditional practice among Brazilian farmers, as they endeavor to maximize the land for producing crops. Cable News Network (CNN) also reported that due to the Amazon being a rainforest with high humidity, it is rare for it to naturally catch on fire. Therefore, there is a strong possibility that the fire is a human-induced result of land clearing.
Meanwhile, opinions are rising that the social policies implemented by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro played a major role in causing the Amazon fire disaster. After President Bolsonaro was inaugurated in January 2019, he pursued business-friendly policies, claiming to bring the Brazilian economic potential to the fullest. According to Reuters, an international news organization, national economic development plans were accompanied by budget cuts to the environmental field. Funding for environment agencies has been reduced substantially to 23 percent, making it difficult for the agencies to prevent and regulate forest fires. Moreover, it became arduous to protect the Amazon through measures such as deterring illegal logging, farming and mining, which are actions that critically damage the forest.
▲ Smoke rising over the Amazon rainforest, Provided by REUTERS
Clash on the International Political Table
The collapse of the Amazon triggered issues in international relations as well. In August, French President Emmanuel Macron emphasized the importance of discussing the Amazon fire issue by prioritizing the agenda at the 45th Group of Seven (G7) summit held in Biarritz. During the summit, G7 nations agreed to offer more than 22 million dollars of aid to Brazil, designating the Amazon fire an international crisis which must be dealt with through the cooperation of countries worldwide. However, the Brazil government responded with an angry retort, rejecting the aid from the G7. By criticizing international aid as a ploy for other countries to buy their way into Brazil, the Brazilian government stated that “Brazil is a democratic, free nation that never had colonialist and imperialist practices.” Such a clash on the field of international relations even spread to include emotional altercations between President Bolsonaro and President Macron. Although Brazil showed a firm stance toward declining the aid, it soon added that the country will only accept the international financial aid under the condition that the country has the sole responsibility of administering the aid.
▲ Professor So Byung Chun (Division of International Studies, Ajou University), Provided by Professor So Byung Chun
Professor So Byung Chun (Division of International Studies, Ajou University) commented that President Bolsonaro’s stance against the international financial aid can be understood when taking the New International Economic Order (NIEO) to consideration. The NIEO was introduced in 1970, with the simple but important principle to each country: Both natural resources within the country’s jurisdiction and its development plans are under the sovereignty of the country. As the Amazon is within the Brazilian boundaries, it is undeniable that Brazil holds full rights and responsibilities to the forest.
Steps Toward International Cooperation
Nonetheless, issues surrounding the Amazon rainforest fire remain from an international perspective. Previously, approaches to protect the world’s forests were proceeded globally in order to reach a sustainable environment, which ensures a healthy environment for future generations. For instance, the United Nations (UN) adopted an international agreement in 2007 highlighting the value of forests in the universal environment. The goals of the agreement were focused on protecting the health of forests, such as reducing deforestation and preventing forest degradation. However, the agreement does not have legal binding force to effectively regulate the actions of countries. Despite such absence of binding power, the agreement is regarded as an influential step toward protecting the environment, indirectly guiding countries to contribute to forest conservation.
Professor So further mentioned the principles discussed in the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, known as the Rio Summit. The principles state that countries should consider the next generation when implementing economic development plans. Likewise, domestic economic development policies should be in balance with the principles of environmentally sound and ecological development. Therefore, while valuing the sovereignty of Brazil, the international society should endeavor to find a point of consensus where economic development goals of Brazil and global environmental measures meet.
Without doubt, the Amazon rainforest is an invaluable asset to the global environment. Producing nearly 20 percent of the world’s oxygen, it is a vital area to the environmental cycle and global climate change. However, despite international attention, the world also needs to acknowledge the national sovereignty of Brazil. Rather than discussing the matter of the Amazon without respect for Brazilian national rights, international society should endeavor to facilitate thorough communication and cooperation altogether.