Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro announced plans on Friday to send armed forces to fight forest fires in the Amazon, reversing course after days of dismissing concern about the ecological disaster.
"Whatever is within our power we will do," Bolsonaro told reporters. "The problem is resources." He added that the government will take a "zero tolerance" approach to environmental crimes. Researchers and environmental groups said the Amazon fires were started by humans.
This comes after Bolsonaro, who has made pledges to ease restrictions on protected areas and under whom deforestation has increased sharply across the country, said the fires were the result of warmer weather and criticized international concern as "sensationalist." But environmental groups blame Bolsonaro's policies, which have reportedly "emboldened" farmers and ranchers to clear land by setting fire to it.
However, Bolsonaro changed his stance as European leaders threatened a trade agreement, protesters took to the streets outside Brazilian embassies, and calls for a boycott of Brazilian products gained momentum. The New York Times notes that any punitive measures could "severely damage" Brazil's economy, which is already in trouble.
CNN reports that the Group of Seven leaders, who are convening in France on Saturday, are in accordance that stopping the fires is a priority. France's President Emmanuel Macron called it an "international crisis," and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said international action is necessary to protect the world's rainforests and that "we will use G-7 to call for a renewed focus on protecting nature and tackling climate change together." President Trump, whose past praise of and cordial relationship with the right-wing Bolsonaro has drawn criticism, offered U.S. assistance.