To Save the Amazon, Treat It Like a UNESCO World Heritage Site

To Save the Amazon, Treat It Like a UNESCO World Heritage Site
A Brazilian soldier puts out fires at the Nova Fronteira region in Novo Progresso, Brazil, Sept. 3, 2019 (AP photo by Leo Correa).

Tensions have simmered for decades between Brazil, which believes the Amazon rainforest is a sovereign resource, and wealthy developed countries concerned with protecting one of the world’s most important carbon sinks. But it wasn’t until last summer that, amid growing international concern over climate change, deforestation in the Amazon provoked a high-level diplomatic spat.

As fires raged in the Amazon, most of them set by farmers and ranchers to clear land, French President Emmanuel Macron proclaimed the issue was an international crisis and said he would put it on the agenda of the G-7 summit in Biarritz. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European political leaders soon seconded the call.

Brazil’s unvarnished populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, could have issued a diplomatic statement recognizing the shared responsibility to address the environmental crisis while balancing issues of national sovereignty. Instead, he tweeted, “The French president’s suggestion that Amazonian matters be discussed at the G7 without the involvement of countries of the region recalls the colonialist mindset that is unacceptable in the 21st century.” Just for good measure, he later insulted Macron’s wife.

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