Environment and climate experts said farmers clearing land are the real cause of a surge in forest fires.
Bolsonaro's latest comments suggesting that non-governmental organizations are to blame for the record number of fires in the Amazon rainforest enraged environmentalists, who disputed his unfounded claim as a "smoke screen" to hide the fact that the president has swiftly dismantled several protections for the world's largest tropical rainforest since entering office last January.
"This is a sick statement, a pitiful statement," said Marcio Astrini, Greenpeace Brazil's public policy coordinator. "Increased deforestation and burning are the result of his anti-environmental policy."
Bolsonaro, a longtime skeptic of environmental concerns, wants to open the Amazon to more agriculture and mining, and has told other countries worried about rising deforestation in the 'world's lungs' to mind their own business, and that the forest "belongs to Brazil."
Congressman Nilto Tatto, leader of the lower house environment caucus, said Bolsonaro's "stunning" attack on NGOs was a smoke screen to hide his dismantling of 30 years of Brazilian environmental protections.
"Everything indicates" that NGOs are going to the Amazon to "set fire" to the forest, Bolsonaro said in a Facebook Live broadcast Wednesday. When asked if he had evidence to back up his claims, he said he had "no written plan," adding "that's not how it's done." The former army captain turned politician said the slashing of NGO funding by his government could be a motive.
"Crime exists," he said. "These people are missing the money," claimed the head of state of South America's biggest economy.
Climate scientist Carlos Nobre said farmers seeking to clear land for cattle pastures wait for the dry season when forests become flammable and then set them alight. He attributed this year's spike in fires to illegal deforestation since this season has not been unusually dry.
"NGOs working in the Amazon do not use fire in farming. On the contrary, they encourage rural communities to avoid fire," said Nobre, senior researcher at the Sao Paulo University's Institute for Advanced Studies.
The hypothesis that it's cattle ranchers setting the forests ablaze is what Indigenous people living on site also say.
People are deliberately starting fires in the #AmazonRainforest to illegally deforest indigenous land for cattle ranching— Sunrise Movement �� (@sunrisemvmt) 21 de agosto de 2019
“These assholes came in and burned down [our reservation]... I want all of the media here to see this” pic.twitter.com/uGFp7RItHK
Speaking later on Wednesday, Bolsonaro also took aim at the Paris climate accord, saying that if it were so good, the United States would have stayed in it. He added that for the time being, Brazil would remain in the pact.
French President Emmanuel Macron warned in June he would not sign the EU-Mercosur trade treaty if Bolsonaro pulled Brazil out of the Paris accord.
Earlier this month, Norway and Germany suspended funding for projects to curb deforestation in Brazil after becoming alarmed by rising deforestation under Bolsonaro.