Ottawa·Q&A

World can't 'stand by' while Amazon burns, Allan Rock warns

Canada's former ambassador to the United Nations explains why he wants the international community to get tough on Brazil after that country's president, Jair Bolsonaro, disregarded offers of emergency aid to fight fires decimating its rainforest.

Former UN ambassador says it's time for other nations to intervene in Brazil 'ecocide'

Flames destroy trees and brush along the road to Jacunda National Forest near the city of Porto Velho in the Vila Nova Samuel region, which is part of Brazil's Amazon, on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. (Eraldo Peres/Associated Press)

Allan Rock, president emeritus of the University of Ottawa and former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, wants the international community to get tough on Brazil after that country's president, Jair Bolsonaro, disregarded offers of emergency aid to fight fires decimating the Amazon.

In a Globe and Mail editorial earlier this week, Rock and World Refugee Council chair Lloyd Axworthy accused Bolsonaro of "committing ecocide" by failing to address the fires.

On Monday, G7 leaders pledged $26.5 million Cdn to help fight the Amazon wildfires and protect the rainforest, in addition to a separate Canadian contribution of $15 million. But Bolsonaro said Tuesday Brazil will only accept the aid if French president Emmanuel Macron takes back earlier comments the Brazilian leader deemed insulting.

Macron previously questioned Bolsonaro's trustworthiness and commitment to the environment. 

Allan Rock, president emeritus at the University of Ottawa, says it's time for the international community to get tough on Brazil for refusing to accept offers of aid. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Rock spoke with CBC Radio's All In A Day about the global consequences resulting from the fires, and explained why he believes the international community should disregard sovereign borders to halt the devastation.

This Q&A between Rock and All In A Day host Giacomo Panico has been edited for length.

Q: You're talking about sending a force to sovereign soil.

A: In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously agreed that forces would be sent across the sovereign border if the state in question was unable or unwilling to stop a mass atrocity like a Rwandan genocide or ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity. So sovereignty is not absolute. 

If your kids and grandkids are not going to have a world to live in because one rogue government is destroying a global asset like a rainforest, causing exceptional harm to the environment, and if they won't respond to the usual diplomatic efforts to change their position, then I think it's well worth debating whether we ought to have a Security Council resolution authorizing steps to be taken to put out the fires and stop the threat to humanity. 

France's President Emmanuel Macron, left, and Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, right, attend the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 28. The two leaders have been feuding in recent days as the world's largest tropical rainforest is ravaged by a record number of fires. (Jacques Witt/AFP/Getty Images)

Q: How long do you give the sanctions, the diplomatic pressure?

A: Some states have already said they're going to discontinue discussions about trade agreements, they're going to cut off economic aid. I think all of those things are predictable. I think you have to be careful not to punish the Brazilian population because Bolsonaro is a rogue politician, but I think that those steps to put pressure on the government and Bolsonaro are useful. 

If you do take the rainforests out of commission — where they can no longer absorb carbon dioxide, they're emitting massive [amounts of] carbon dioxide through the burning, and this global sink is gone — that is going to make it impossible for the world to achieve the climate targets that were articulated in Paris. 

Q: Do you think the international community needs to up its game when it comes to offering assistance?

A: Yes. Of course, you know the response from Bolsonaro: he now wants to have an apology before he'll take the money. So that tells you a lot about his good faith, tells you a lot about his good sense, tells you a lot about the danger we face having these issues in his hands. 

Ideally, these fires wouldn't be happening. And if they had happened accidentally, then the world would be there with shovels and hoses and firefighters and money saying, "Let us help you put these out." Of course we should be doing everything we can to put them out and save the rainforest. But if he's declining any assistance and insisting on some kind of a political point through an apology, well then what do you do with a guy like that? Must we stand by and watch this extraordinary and perhaps irreparable damage occur?

With files for CBC Radio's All in a Day

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