Deforestation to blame for wildfires ripping through the Amazon forest, environmentalist says

Fires are ripping through the Amazon rainforest at a rapid rate, and an environmentalist who's been in the area says it's all down to deforestation ordered by Brazil's far-right leader.

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Greenpeace NZ’s Phil Vine talked about what the fires in Brazil mean for the rest of the world. Source: Breakfast

Satellite data shows an 84 per cent increase in the number of blazes compared to the same time last year.

Greenpeaces's Phil Vine told TVNZ1's Breakfast the "distressing" thing is there is a tipping point for the forest which would impact the rest of the world.

He said 20 per cent of the oxygen we breathe on earth comes out of the Amazon's 400 billion trees, and 20 per cent of the water on earth is cycled through that forest.

"So that gives you an idea of how important it is," he said, adding that the forest also absorbs 2.2 billion tonnes of carbon every year.

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Conservationists say the government’s encouraging deforestation for farming. Source: 1 NEWS

"We all know the relationship now of carbon and climate change. If that gets released, you know, we're well on the way to more than two degrees heating for earth.

"The situation is there are states of emergency in several states around the Amazon where wildfires are taking place," he said.

Mr Vine said climate change feeds into wildfires, but he said the most likely cause was deforestation happening in the area, driven by Brazil's far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro.

Under the new Government, people were going in and cutting and burning down trees for cattle-ranching, he said. 

"The dynamics there, having a far-right nationalist president, mean that he's actually pushing back when the rest of the world is saying, 'hey, we need the Amazon, lungs of our planet, cycling all that water', he's going 'actually, you guys have already burnt your primary forests, don't come to me where we still have the Amazon and start telling us what to do with it'.

"It's a really difficult diplomatic situation."

Mr Vine said people needed to take both lifestyle and political responsibilities seriously when it comes to environmental issues. "Get involved, save this planet."

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Thousands of wildfires are prompting fears it may speed up climate change. Source: 1 NEWS

Today, Bolsonaro told the Associated Press there was a "very strong" indication that some non-governmental groups could be setting blazes in retaliation for losing state funds under his administration. He did not provide any evidence.

Bolsonaro, who won election last year, also accused media organisations of exploiting the fires to undermine his government.

"Most of the media wants Brazil to end up like Venezuela," he said, referring to political and economic turbulence in the neighbouring South American country.