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Firefighters combat a fire in the Amazon basin in the municipality Sorriso, Mato Grosso State, Brazil, on August 26.MAYKE TOSCANO/AFP/Getty Images

Denis Fontes de Souza Pinto is the Ambassador of Brazil to Canada.

Brazil, as well as other South American countries, has been recently afflicted by the scourge of forest fires. This phenomenon is not uncommon in the current dry season, but it has hit the Amazon region, which encompasses eight countries, with particular magnitude this year. We hear and thank Canadian civil society for its concern and interest, and are particularly encouraged by the pledges for help and co-operation, such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent comments at the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz. It could not be different, since Canada is also a country affected by terrible forest fires, which afflict many nations, in every continent. The government in Ottawa knows and values the importance of co-operation.

The broad public debate as to what can be done in the Amazon, however, has been somewhat marred by an astounding amount of disinformation, be it intentional or just careless – not to mention what can be perceived as thinly veiled political discourse. I feel it is paramount that, at this moment, fact be separated from fiction.

As of Aug. 16, satellite data indicated that total fire activity across the Amazon basin this year has been close to the average in comparison to the past 15 years.

I note that the information above is not from the Brazilian government. It was retrieved on Aug. 28 from the website of NASA’s Earth Observatory. It shows that the number of fires do not represent a historical or unprecedented record.

Data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) also show that the approximately 80,000 points of fire activity registered this year are not concentrated in the Amazon region, but refer to the entire Brazilian territory. Moreover, when we consider the ratio between fire activity and territory – as we should, since fire monitoring and control entails area coverage – the data from recent days show that the activity in Brazil ranks fifth in comparison with other countries in South America.

This is not in any way to deny the increase of fire activity in Brazil in the last month in comparison to 2018. But truth be served, it is necessary to highlight that some of the figures and information that have been presented are clearly misleading.

The Brazilian government is fully aware of the challenge of controlling the fires. It has already created an emergency cabinet and deployed the armed forces to tackle the problem. Amazon-basin countries are planning a meeting to co-ordinate policies to protect the rain forest.

The Brazilian government has been following with grave concern recent news and statements, which range from negative innuendo about the country’s environmental policies to overt threats as to its sovereignty over the Amazon. Suggestions that the United Nations principle of Responsibility to Protect should be reinterpreted to undermine Brazil’s sovereignty over the Amazon are particularly troubling. The Responsibility to Protect principle was adopted at the United Nations in a context of armed conflict with evidence of human-rights abuse. To infer its possible application on the basis of a campaign with disputable information about one country’s sovereign policies is simply ludicrous.

Environmental laws and enforcing policies in Brazil, which are internationally recognized, have not changed in recent years. Among other environmental assets, Brazil has around 60 per cent of its territory covered by native vegetation. Those who are really concerned about controlling the current fires in the rain forest should not present co-operation pledges with overt challenges to Brazil’s sovereign rights over the Amazon. Such conditionality clearly serves a hidden agenda, not a genuine interest in preservation or co-operation.

Rest assured, Brazil is acting in defence of the immense riches – biodiversity first among them – that comprise its Amazon region, as are other countries afflicted by the forest fires. We act in strict line and compliance with the international instruments of which we are a part and our own environmental policy, in implementing concrete actions to combat deforestation and forest degradation. The dissemination of false or misleading information does not help this effort, nor will it further the cause of those who wish to promote self-serving agendas.

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