A senior Brazilian official has told Emmanuel Macron to take care of “his home and his colonies” as Brazil rejected an offer from G7 countries of $20m (£16m) to help fight fires in the Amazon.
“We appreciate [the offer], but maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe,” Onyx Lorenzoni, the chief of staff to President Jair Bolsonaro, told the G1 news website.
Leaders of the G7 countries made the aid offer at a weekend summit in the French city of Biarritz hosted by the French president, who had put the fires high on the agenda. Environmental campaigners have dismissed the sum as “chump change”.
“Macron cannot even avoid a foreseeable fire in a church that is a world heritage site,” Lorenzoni said in a reference to the blaze that devastated the Notre Dame cathedral in April. “What does he intend to teach our country?
“Brazil is a democratic, free nation that never had colonialist and imperialist practices, as perhaps is the objective of the Frenchman Macron.”
The Brazilian presidency later confirmed the comments to Agence France-Presse.
Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, had earlier told reporters that his country welcomed the G7 funding, but after a meeting between Bolsonaro and his ministers, the Brazilian government changed course.
Satellite data has recorded more than 41,000 fires in the Amazon region so far this year – more than half of those this month alone. Experts said most of the fires were started by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland.
The announcement of the $20m assistance package was the most concrete outcome of the three-day G7 summit of major industrialised democracies in Biarritz and aimed to give money to Amazonian nations such as Brazil and Bolivia, primarily to pay for more firefighting planes.
Tensions have risen between France and Brazil after Macron tweeted that the fires burning in the Amazon basin amounted to an international crisis and should be discussed as a top priority at the G7 summit. Bolsonaro reacted by accusing Macron of having a “colonialist mentality”.
Speaking on French TV on Monday night, Macron reiterated that the Amazon was a global issue and intensified his criticism of Bolsonaro.
“We respect your sovereignty. It’s your country,” Macron said. But the trees in the Amazon are “the lungs of the planet”, he added.
“The Amazon forest is a subject for the whole planet. We can help you reforest. We can find the means for your economic development that respects the natural balance. But we cannot allow you to destroy everything.”
He also acknowledged that Europe, by importing soya from Brazil, was not without blame for the agricultural pressure on the rainforest, saying: “We are partly complicit.”
The diplomatic row between the leaders had escalated earlier in the day, when Macron condemned Bolsonaro for what he called “extraordinarily rude” comments made about his wife, Brigitte, after the Brazilian president expressed approval online for a Facebook post implying that Brigitte Macron was not as good-looking as his own wife, Michelle.
“He has made some extraordinarily rude comments about my wife,” Macron said at a press conference in Biarritz when asked to react to statements about him by the Brazilian government. “What can I say? It’s sad. It’s sad for him firstly, and for Brazilians,” he added.
Macron said he hoped for the sake of the Brazilian people “that they will very soon have a president who behaves in the right way”.
The US president, Donald Trump, skipped the summit session aimed at finding solutions to global heating through tree planting and shifting from fossil fuels to wind energy. In a press conference after the summit, he was dismissive of efforts to change direction.
“I feel the US has tremendous wealth … I’m not going to lose that wealth on dreams, on windmills – which, frankly, aren’t working too well,” he said. “I think I know more about the environment than most.”
Environmental groups said G7’s emergency fire aid was insufficient and failed to address the trade and consumption drivers of deforestation.
“The offer of $20m is chump change, especially as the crisis in the Amazon is directly linked to overconsumption of meat and dairy in the UK and other G7 countries,” said Richard George, the head of forests for Greenpeace UK.