Brazil's environment minister was met with boos and heckles when he took the stage at a meeting on climate change Wednesday as massive wildfires continued to rage for more than two weeks in the world’s largest rainforest.
Ricardo Salles attended the U.N.’s Latin American and Caribbean Climate Week conference on Wednesday and when his name was announced, the plenary booed and shouted at him.
Some in the audience waved signs reading, "Stop Ecocide" or "The Amazon is burning" as they shouted.
Salles, who tried to cancel the conference held in the northern state of Bahia earlier this year, spoke briefly, saying climate change needs to be addressed.
"People are asking for more and more actions. ... There is an acknowledgment that we are in a situation of crisis and emergency," said Manuel Pulgar Vidal, former environment minister of Peru, who attended the event.
Meanwhile, a record number of wildfires have been raging across the Amazon rainforest.
Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, a federal agency monitoring deforestation and wildfires, counted 47,155 wildfires as of Tuesday, an 84 percent increase compared to the same period last year.
The states that have been most affected by fires this year are Mato Grosso, Para, and Amazonas – all in the Amazon region – accounting for 41.7 percent of all fires.
On Monday, the country’s largest city, Sao Paulo, plunged into darkness in the middle of the day after billowing smoke from the wildfires combined with a weather pattern created an ominous, dark blanket over the metropolis.
“It is very difficult to have natural fires in the Amazon; it happens but the majority come from the hand of humans,” said Paulo Moutinho, co-founder of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute.
Salles, along with President Jair Bolsonaro, are both close to the powerful rural caucus in Congress and have been urging more development and economic opportunities in the Amazon region, which they consider overly protected by current legislation.
On Wednesday, Bolsonaro suggested – without citing evidence – that non-governmental organizations could be setting the fires to make him look bad.
“Maybe – I am not affirming it – these (NGO people) are carrying out some criminal actions to draw attention against me, against the government of Brazil,” he told reporters. “There is a war going on in the world against Brazil, an information war.”
Conservationists have blamed Brazil’s government for the Amazon’s plight, saying Bolsonaro has repeatedly encouraged clearing of the land by loggers and farmers, thereby speeding up the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
The Amazon is often referred to as the lungs of our planet because it is a major absorber of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Fires in the region can easily get out of control, especially now during the Amazon’s dry region, and spread to densely forested protected areas. This year, the Amazon has not suffered from serious dryness, Moutinho said.
“We’re lucky. If we had had droughts like in the past four years, this would be even worse,” he added.
The Brazilian government is facing international pressure to protect the vast rainforest form illegal logging or mining activities.
Citing Brazil's apparent lack of commitment to fighting deforestation, Germany and Norway have decided to withhold more than $60 million in funds earmarked for sustainability projects in Brazil's forests.
French and German leaders have also threatened not to ratify a trade deal between the European Union and Mercosur countries to pressure Brazil into complying with its environmental pledges within the Paris Climate Agreement.
Fox News' Travis Fedschun and the Associated Press contributed to this report.