British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was personally thanked by the Brazilian government for refusing to support European action over the Amazon fires, documents obtained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism showed.
As the rainforest burned last summer, Johnson criticized a threat by French President Emmanuel Macron to block the EU’s Mercosur trade deal with Brazil.
Speaking in Biarritz before the G7 summit in August last year, Johnson described the fires as a “tragedy,” but called Macron’s threat an excuse to interfere with free trade.
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had already given his support to Macron’s proposal.
Days after the G7, the Brazilian ambassador “thanked the prime minister for his stance at Biarritz, and said it had not gone unnoticed in Brasilia,” according to documents released to the bureau through a freedom of information request.
Ed Davey, acting coleader of the Liberal Democrats, said he was astounded at the revelation, especially as the UK is due to host the COP26 global climate negotiations this year.
“Any remaining credibility Boris Johnson has on climate is now gone,” Davey said. “For the British prime minister to cosy up to one of the world’s leading climate deniers, and protect [Brazilian] President Bolsonaro from international reaction to his destruction of the Amazon rainforest, just beggars belief.”
Critics of Bolsonaro have said that his policies led to increased logging, contributing to the fires last year.
Labour’s Barry Gardiner called on Johnson to rethink his approach.
“Our government has refused to challenge President Bolsonaro over his policy measures, which are directly responsible for encouraging some of the worst forest fires ever seen and the mass displacement of indigenous peoples,” Gardiner said. “They should be showing leadership, not endorsing a regime that is responsible for some of the most climate-damaging policies of our time.”
Brazil wants a trade deal between South American countries and a post-Brexit UK, similar to the Mercosur agreement. Politicians and campaigners have expressed concern that the Mercosur deal could put the Amazon at risk by boosting imports of products that fuel tree felling, such as beef, soya beans and timber. Opposition parties in the UK have called for guarantees that any future UK-Brazil trade deal would not contribute to the destruction of the Amazon.
The vast majority of the Amazon basin sits in Brazil, where deforestation rose by 30 percent last year.
“The hypocrisy of Johnson’s self-proclaimed leadership on climate is staggering,” former Green party leader Caroline Lucas said.”We should be using trade deals to try to drive up environmental protection and climate action around the world, not give a nod and a wink to Bolsonaro’s destruction of the rainforest.”
Every year up to 5,800km2 of forest is being felled in the Amazon and other protected areas to be converted into pasture for cattle farming, according to research by Trase, a supply chain transparency initiative.
Campaign groups including WWF are calling for a commitment to a “due diligence” clause to be added to the government’s environment bill, which would require British companies to assess the environmental impacts of their global supply chains and report on their progress in eradicating them.
“As the UK negotiates new trade deals, we must insist on the highest environmental standards to protect people and the planet — including removing deforestation from our supply chains,” the WWF’s Mike Barrett said.
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