OPINION: I would like to take a moment to acknowledge, as Aotearoa’s Climate Change Minister, the fires raging in the Amazon, and in other parts of the tropics.
As we speak, thousands of fires are burning.
The fires in the Amazon are the worst we’ve seen in nearly a decade. According to Global Forest Watch, it is the highest number of fires since 2010, with 156,000 fires in the first eight months of the year.
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I can’t state enough how concerning this is. This burning is pumping enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere.
On top of that, the fires - mostly illegal - are destroying the world’s biggest terrestrial carbon sink.
We need the Amazon rainforest to soak up carbon dioxide so we stay within 1.5 degrees of global warming and keep us all safe.
Scientists say that, potentially, the worst is yet to come for burning this year. They also say we’re reaching a tipping point, after which the lungs of our planet will irreversibly descend into a dry savannah.
It is clear that at a time where the window to stop irreversible climate change is closing, we must ensure that we elect leaders who put conservation front and centre.
We know that Brazil’s President Bolsonaro campaigned to open up the Amazon for farming and mining. This no doubt felt critical for Brazilians who want to be lifted out of poverty.
It is because of this that we must ensure better international efforts to support countries like Brazil to transition their economies and lift people out of poverty in a way that protects our collective world heritage in the Amazon.
I know for all of us, myself included, this feels incredibly dire and there may be temptation to switch off.
Luckily, there’s some good news.
As a global community we’ve acted before when things got bad.
According to Global Forest Watch, fires were greater than current levels in 2002-2005 and 2007. Due to international efforts and pressure, the Brazilian Government introduced largely successful policies to prevent runaway deforestation. This included measures such as boosted law enforcement and more land protection.
Private companies also pledged to eliminate agricultural products from their supply chain that originated from Brazilian deforested land.
As a global society, we must all come together to protect the lungs of our planet.
I implore world leaders to stop political squabbling and to focus on how we can protect this incredible forest, led by indigenous peoples, for generations to come.
James Shaw is the Minister for Climate Change and Green Party co-leader