The world’s richest countries came up with just $22 million to fight the Amazon fires

A drop won’t help.
A drop won’t help.
Image: Marizilda Cruppe/Amnesty International
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Less than 24 hours after Paris’s Notre-Dame caught fire in April, €850 million ($945 million) had already been pledged for the cathedral’s restoration.

Yet after weeks that have seen tens of thousands of  fires—most of them likely man-made—ravaging the Amazon rainforest at a rate higher than ever recorded before, the world’s seven largest advanced economies managed to come up with just €20 million ($22 million) to help save it through reforestation.

That is, one or two million for each percentage point of the planet’s oxygen produced by the “lungs of the Earth,” depending on what statistics one looks at. The Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world, and to add to the damage, fires are usually used to make space for cattle ranching—one of the leading agricultural sources of methane emissions.

The agreement was reached today by representatives of the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US, who have been enjoying the pleasant breeze in Biarritz, on the Basque coast of France, during the G7 summit. The host, French president Emmanuel Macron, announced the decision to fund an emergency donation to fight the fires in the Amazon, noting also the importance of reforestation. Donald Trump did not attend the climate meeting at the summit, though the US will contribute to the fund.

“I don’t believe this is a response on the scale of the crisis,” Christian Poirier, program director of Amazon Watch, told Quartz. Poirier called the sum is “insignificant” when compared to the undertaking of putting off the fires and reforestation.

As a symbolic gesture, he noted, the G7 is standing up to the Brazilian government. President Jair Bolsonaro—who has been very lax about destruction of the rainforest for commercial gain—has rejected international support as an attack on Brazil’s sovereignty. Tension with Macron has even gotten personal, and it is yet unclear how the €20 million will be donated, given Brazil’s unwillingness to accept help.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who addressed the G7 this morning, noted that replanting will be essential. Older estimates of the price tag attached to ending Amazon deforestation put it at hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

Brazil was receiving donations of that magnitude, primarily from Norway (which has paid over $1.2 billion to the fund since 2008), and from Germany, through an Amazon fund. Earlier this month, however, both countries froze their contributions due to the Bolsonaro administration’s intention to possibly change the use of the funds.

The $22 million infusion “is the beginning of what I hope will be a set of solutions,” said Poirier, adding that global consumers may be in a position do to a lot. “We are providing the markets for the products that are driving the destruction we are seeing today,” he says, pointing to soy growing and cattle ranching.

Brazil is increasingly relying on the global market, hence Macron’s threat to end Europe’s trade deal with Brazil over the fires.

Correction: Cattle ranching is one of the leading causes of methane emissions, not carbon dioxide.