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Finnish pols demand action over Amazon fires

PM Antti Rinne and European Commissioner Jyrki Katainen were among those calling for urgent steps on Friday.

Amatzonin sademetsää poltetaan.
Satellite data shows an 85% spike in wildfires this year. Image: Environmental Images / Universal Images Group / REX / AOP

From across the political spectrum, Finnish politicians voiced concern over the wildfires raging the Amazon rainforests of Brazil.

Prime Minister Antti Rinne called the fires "a threat to our whole planet, not just to Brazil or South America."

"When it comes to climate change, the situation is extremely serious and we need to act immediately," he said in a statement on Friday, pledging to discuss the situation within the European Council.

"We must find out whether the Europeans have something to offer to Brazil to help prevent this kind of fires in the future. It goes without saying that in terms of climate change the world cannot sustain such fires...I am truly worried about the attitude Brazil seems to have adopted right now regarding its own forests. Brazil should do all it takes to end the fires that are a danger to our whole civilisation," he added.

The Amazon produces an estimated one fifth of the world's oxygen, making it a crucial player in efforts to limit climate change.

Brazilian beef ban?

Finland, which holds the EU Council presidency, said the EU should consider banning Brazilian beef in response to the devastation caused by the fires, widely attributed to the clearing of land for farming of soybeans and beef.

“Finance Minister Mika Lintilä condemns the destruction of Amazon rainforests and proposes that the EU and Finland urgently look into the option of banning the import of Brazilian beef,” he said in a statement released in Finnish only on Friday afternoon.

He added that he was "prepared to raise the issue for discussion with my EU finance minister colleagues when they arrive in Helsinki in September if progress is not made before that," he said.

"We should think broadly about various measures through which we could bring pressure in this acute situation, both trade policy measures and certainly also diplomatic means. And to think together at the EU level as well, and for that reason of course we're calling the EU together for a meeting," Environment Minister Krista Mikkonen told Yle on Friday.

Meetings this weekend

European Commission VP Jyrki Katainen told the daily Helsingin Sanomat that he planned to find out on Friday what kinds of measures the EU could implement. According to the paper, he plans to call an emergency meeting of the Commission to discuss the issue on Saturday morning.

Meanwhile French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel say the crisis which must be discussed at the G7 summit that begins in France on Saturday.

Petteri Orpo, chair of Finland's opposition National Coalition Party, posted a tweet saying that "the destruction of the Amazon rainforests must stop. The EU must take its place at the forefront of the work against climate change and condemn Brazil's actions. This madness threatens the world's valuable carbon sinks."

Protests and coffee beans

Meanwhile as in several other capitals, the climate group Extinction Rebellion organised a small demonstration outside the Brazilian Embassy in Helsinki's Kaivopuisto district on Friday morning.

Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) says its satellite data shows an 85 percent increase in wildfires compared to the same period of last year.

Environmental NGOs says that President Jair Bolsonaro, a long time climate change denier, has encouraged clearing activities, while he has accused them of lighting the fires themselves. On Thursday, he conceded that farmers could be behind the fires.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly called for opening the Amazon to business interests, to allow mining, agricultural and logging companies to exploit its natural resources.

While Brazil is Finland's largest trading partner in South America, trade between the two countries is relatively small, accounting for less than one percent of Finnish imports. Bilateral trade totalled less than a billion euros last year.

Finland mainly imports pulp and food products from Brazil – including less than five million euros' worth each of beef and soybeans annually, along with some 70 million euros' worth of coffee beans.

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