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Around the World, Forests Are on Fire

Plus: Boris Johnson seeks to suspend Parliament, Italy moves toward a new coalition, and other stories we’re following today.

A fire burns in Altamira, in the Brazilian state of Pará, on Aug. 27.
A fire burns in Altamira, in the Brazilian state of Pará, on Aug. 27. Joao Laet/AFP/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: World leaders argue over aid as fires ravage the Amazon rainforest, Boris Johnson seeks to suspend Britain’s Parliament, and Iran says no to talks with Trump.

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Watch the World Burn

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: World leaders argue over aid as fires ravage the Amazon rainforest, Boris Johnson seeks to suspend Britain’s Parliament, and Iran says no to talks with Trump.

We welcome your feedback at

Watch the World Burn

French President Emmanuel Macron and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro spent the first few days of the week trading barbs. Now, egos appear to have gotten in the way of aid. 

Bolsonaro indicated he would not accept the $22 million authorized by G-7 leaders to help quell fires destroying the Amazon rainforest unless Macron first apologized for accusing him of lying about climate commitments. He did accept $12 million in aid from Britain. Meanwhile, amid a drop in fines for environmental violations, fires, many of them set on purpose to expand agricultural land, are burning across the Brazilian Amazon at a rate 80 percent higher than last year.

The Amazon, much of which is in Brazil, is the focus of widespread international attention. As the world’s largest rainforest, it plays an outsized role in absorbing planet-warming carbon dioxide, and is home to hundreds of indigenous groups and untold biodiversity. But Brazil is not the only country where ecological resources are going up in flames. 

Beyond Brazil. The Bolivian Amazon is burning, too. The Amazon spans nine countries—Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. This dry season, Bolivia has seen the most fires after Brazil, with nearly 4,000 square miles affected. As in Brazil, many of the fires were lit by farmers, with the explicit or tacit approval of the government, environmental activists say. 

Beyond the Amazon. According to NASA’s global fire map, more blazes are currently burning in sub-Saharan Africa than in South America. But the situation is not directly analogous: While some fires in Angola, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are causing deforestation, many are controlled burns, CNN reports. Macron said he would consider fire aid for countries in Africa, not just for Brazil. 

The Arctic is also burning. As the world warms, the risk of fire in the far north increases. This month, an area bigger than Belgium burned in Russia, and wildfires broke out in Alaska, Canada, and Greenland as well.

What We’re Following Today

Boris Johnson seeks to suspend Parliament. The BBC reports that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will ask the queen to prorogue the British Parliament for five weeks beginning just a few days after lawmakers return to work in early September—meaning that there would be less than two weeks to pass legislation aimed at blocking a no-deal Brexit when lawmakers return in October.

The Conservative Party is portraying the request as business as usual, while members of the opposition and some anti-Brexit Tories are denouncing the strategy as an anti-democratic outrage. “I will certainly vote to bring down a Conservative government that persists in a course of action which is so unconstitutional,” said Dominic Grieve, a Tory former attorney general. The Labour Party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, called it an “utterly scandalous affront to our democracy.”

Scandal or not, the move may be strategically savvy. As former Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications director, Craig Oliver, explained: “Number 10 believes it has created a win win scenario with this explosive announcement,” he wrote on Twitter. “Yes – and they get Brexit by October 31st; No – and they get to fight a ‘people versus parliament’ general election.” The latter scenario, Aleks Eror argued in FP earlier this month, is likely Johnson’s true goal—and one that he can accomplish if he generates a backlash among anti-Brexit MPs and then successfully campaigns against them.

Coalition talks resume in Italy. Talks between the Five Star Movement and the Democratic Party broke down and then resumed. The two parties appeared to be on track to form a new coalition, with Giuseppe Conte slated to stay on as prime minister, but key details remain to be hammered out, including the number of cabinet posts and the coveted position of interior minister. The country’s politics have been in chaos since Conte announced his resignation last week, forcing new coalition negotiations and opening the possibility of snap elections. “Starting to look good for the highly respected Prime Minister of the Italian Republic, Giuseppe Conte,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. 

Vietnam says no to Huawei. Russia says yes. Vietnam is seeking to become the first country in Southeast Asia to offer a 5G network without turning to the Chinese firm, amid fears of a high-tech Trojan horse in the company’s systems and pressure from the United States to keep China from dominating the future of telecommunications. Meanwhile, Russia has entered talks with the company, Reuters reports, over the possibility of using its tablets to conduct the country’s 2020 census. 

Iran says no to Trump talks. As the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, wound down earlier this week, U.S. President Donald Trump expressed tentative interest in meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani under the right circumstances. Rouhani on Tuesday made clear what those circumstances would look like from his perspective: “Without the U.S.’s withdrawal from sanctions, we will not witness any positive development,” he said in a televised speech, adding that he was not interested in a meeting for the sake of a photo opportunity.

For news and analysis on the world’s most populous and fastest-growing regions, sign up for FP’s new weekly newsletters: South Asia Brief, delivered on Tuesdays, and China Brief, delivered on Wednesdays.

Keep an Eye On

Lockdowns in Cameroon. Separatist groups in the country’s Anglophone regions have begun imposing lockdowns in an effort to secure the release of imprisoned factional leaders. Thousands of people have left their homes amid the uncertainty, joining the 500,000 people displaced since 2016. 

New North Korean missiles threaten Japan. Pyongyang appears to be developing new short-range ballistic missiles capable of getting through Japan’s missile shield, Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said Tuesday. The new rockets are able to follow irregular trajectories, which make them harder to intercept.

Could India be facing a financial crisis? GDP growth is down. High unemployment and a growing workforce outpacing the rate of job creation are likely factors behind slowing consumer demand. Rajiv Kumar, a top think thank official, said the situation was unprecedented. Foreign Policys Ravi Agrawal and Kathryn Salam examine the countrys economic prospects in this weeks South Asia Brief.

Odds and Ends

The banana industry is fighting to keep a destructive fungus from ravaging the most popular variety of the fruit, the Associated Press reports. Scientists have long predicted that banana exporters might have to give up on their favorite monoculture breed—the Cavendish, which is particularly suited for shipping to the United States—due to the threat of fungus. That day may be drawing nigh, now that the fungus in question has been detected in Colombia, a top exporter, for the first time.

Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species have agreed to what amounts to a near ban on selling wild-caught African baby elephants to zoos. “Speaking personally as an elephant field biologist, I am jubilant that we have secured this victory for all the elephants who will now be spared the ordeal of being ripped away from their families,” Audrey Delsink, Humane Society International’s Africa wildlife director, told the BBC.

Foreign Policy Recommends

“We are better than this,” reads a memo leaked in January 2017 from the U.S. State Department’s internal dissent channel after Trump signed an executive order suspending immigration from seven seven Muslim-majority countries. The author of that memo resigned on Friday after spending 11 years as a consular officer in the foreign service. In a heartfelt op-ed for the New York Times, she explains why two-and-a-half years into Trump’s presidency, she can no longer back his agenda. “What of the administration’s policies is there left to defend to foreign audiences,” she writes, “other than a promise that we’re a democracy and that there are future elections to come?”  —Amy Mackinnon, staff writer

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