Live

Watch CBSN Live

Brazil's Jair Bolsanaro calls new Amazon fires a "lie" — as videos show the rainforest burning

Complicit: The Amazon Fires
Complicit: The Amazon Fires 22:58

Fires currently surging in the Amazon rainforest could be even more devastating than last year's, but Brazil's government is denying they even exist. On Tuesday, President Jair Bolsonaro called the fires a "lie" — as photos and videos from the region show the forest burning. 

Fires in the Amazon for the month of August hit a nine-year high in 2019 — but this month appears to be on track to top the record once again. Officials recorded more than 10,000 fires in the first 10 days of the month, up 17% from this time last year, according to data from INPE, a federal institute that monitors fires.

According to Reuters, members of the Leticia Pact, an agreement between South American countries to protect the Amazon, met on Tuesday. While speaking to other leaders, Bolsonaro angrily denied the existence of the fires, challenging officials to fly over the Amazon and try to spot a single flame. 

"They won't find any spot of fire, nor a quarter of a hectare deforested," he said, Reuters reports. "This story that the Amazon is going up in flames is a lie and we must combat it with true numbers."

A Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) fire brigade member holds a dead anteater while attempting to control hot points in a tract of the Amazon jungle near Apui
A Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) fire brigade member holds a dead anteater while attempting to control hot points in a tract of the Amazon jungle near Apui, Amazonas State, Brazil, August 11, 2020. UESLEI MARCELINO / REUTERS

Also during the speech, Bolsanaro said that Brazil does not need help protecting the Amazon, arguing that the majority of the forest is still standing. He claimed the forest does not catch fire because it is wet, bashing the media and foreign leaders for criticizing him.

Bolsonaro employed a similar tactic last year, arguing with world leaders when massive fires in the rainforest captured global attention. At the time, he fired the head of INPE, Ricardo Galvao, who defended the agency's data on the fires' destruction. 

But the fires are not occurring naturally. Experts say the vast majority of them are manmade in order to clear land for farming. 

Deforestation rose nearly 35% from July 2019 to July 2020, despite the government's supposed efforts to combat it. 

In June, 34 major international investors put pressure on the Brazilian government to protect the forest, threatening to divest from Brazilian companies if no changes were made, Reuters reports. A federal decree on July 16 banned deforestation for 120 days in the Amazon during the region's dry season.

Tract of the Amazon jungle burns as it is cleared by loggers and farmers near Apui
A tract of the Amazon jungle burns as it is cleared by loggers and farmers near Apui, Amazonas State, Brazil August 8, 2020.  UESLEI MARCELINO / REUTERS

Despite the ban, July saw 6,803 fires, compared to 5,318 a year ago — an increase of nearly 30%.

Bolsonaro's administration has been vocal about its intentions to develop the Amazon. In May, the country's environmental minister Ricardo Salles said that the government should loosen environmental regulations while the world is distracted by the coronavirus pandemic

Preserving the world's largest rainforest is vital to combating climate change. The dense collection of trees is responsible for absorbing about 5% of the world's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions annually. 

Scientists warn it may be only a few years before the ecosystem reaches a tipping point and transitions into a more open savanna, with vastly less ability to absorb greenhouse gases and buffer the Earth against climate change.

General view of a tract of the Amazon jungle which burns as it is cleared by loggers and farmers near Apui
General view of a tract of the Amazon jungle which burns as it is cleared by loggers and farmers near Apui, Amazonas State, Brazil August 11, 2020.  UESLEI MARCELINO / REUTERS
View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue