UNITED NATIONS - International donors agreed on Monday to free up more than $500 million in aid to protect tropical rainforests, including the Amazon where wildfires are raging, France's president said on Monday at a U.N. meeting shunned by Brazil.
The Brazilian Amazon is facing its worst spate of forest fires since 2010, prompting a global outcry and worries that destruction of parts of the world's largest rainforest could hurt demand for Brazil's exports.
Leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations in August offered $20 million of emergency aid to help fight Amazon fires, a gesture Brazil at the time criticized as colonialist.
French President Emmanuel Macron had called for a wider alliance to protect rainforests worldwide using the United Nations General Assembly as a platform to garner support.
France, Chile and Colombia met on the sidelines of the annual gathering of world leaders on Monday, despite the absence of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a climate change skeptic who is promoting development in the Amazon region.
"Everybody thinks 'How are you going to do without Brazil?'" Macron said during a speech. "Brazil is welcome and I think everyone wants to work with Brazil (...) It will come, it takes a very inclusive approach."
Macron hit back at Bolsonaro's accusations that Paris had no role to play, saying that French Guiana, a French overseas territory in South America, shared a more than 700-kilometer border with Brazil, making it a player in protecting rainforests.
France would contribute $100 million out of $500 million in the package, Macron said. Germany, Britain and the European Union were also among the contributors to investments in biodiversity preservation and lasting development.
"Halting deforestation and restoring degraded forests are global imperatives," said U.N. Secretary General Antonio Gutteres, who also spoke on Monday at the U.N. Climate Action Summit.
"For every dollar spent restoring degraded forests, as much as $30 can be recouped in economic benefits and poverty reduction," Gutteres said.
Many of the fires sweeping through the Amazon are thought to have been started deliberately in Brazil, with environmentalists blaming speculators who burn vegetation to clear it in hopes of selling the land to farmers and ranchers.
The Amazon is often described as "the lungs of the world" because of its vast ability to absorb carbon dioxide.
"As we destroy the world's forests, we drive ever more species to extinction, we erode nature's ability to cope with climate change and we undermine the livelihoods of millions of people," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said. "The U.K. recognizes that we are at a tipping point and that action now is both urgent and essential."