Thursday, December 15, 2011

DEFORESTATION IN BRAZIL: WILL THERE BE MORE OR LESS?

Deforestation in Capixaba, Acre, Brazil
Deforestation for cattle in Capixaba, Acre, Brazil

[Update December 16, 2011: Greenpeace Brazil reports that a law was passed and signed that would exclude the Federal enforcement agency IBAMA from policing against illegal logging, passing the responsibility to local authorities who are often less resistant to violations of the law.]

The fierce struggle over setting limits to deforestation in Brazil continues. The good news is that the final vote on a revised Forest Code has been delayed until March, 2012 which pushes it close to the major UN environmental conference RIO+20 where President Dilma hopes to showcase Brazil as a global green leader who can halt deforestation and demonstrate sustainable development.

The bad news is that the delay was forced in the Chamber of Deputies by the powerful agribusiness bloc that does not want to accept even the relatively small green amendments that were introduced as the proposed law passed through the Senate. So, the battle lines have been drawn and across the next months we can expect intense campaigning on all sides.

Here's how the World Wildlife Fund sees the situation:


Brazil's destructive Forest Code vote delayed - but only till March

15 December 2011

Thanks in part to campaigners across Brazil and the world, final voting on controversial and destructive changes to the country’s Forest Law has been postponed until March 2012. It's a great first success - but the battle’s not over, and we still need your support to spread the word, and help make sure damaging changes are stopped.

It was announced this week that the Brazilian House of Representatives has postponed its final voting on changes to the Forest Code. A vote in favour could still see vast areas of tropical forest in the Amazon and elsewhere destroyed for cattle ranching and agriculture.

The postponement is a great success for environmental and social movements, both within Brazil and beyond, who have actively campaigned against the changes since they were drafted earlier this year. It buys time to build the campaign further and encourage more action to stop the changes.

One of the major criticisms has been the incredible pace at which Congress has been driving the process, often ignoring the input of scientists, environmentalists and small-scale producers.

There’s also been confusion about what the draft text has actually contained at various stages. According to the Comitê Brasil, a coalition of which WWF is part, the draft bill text is "full of ambiguities designed to bend socio-environmental criteria to satisfy the specific needs of the large-scale agribusiness interests, thereby running against the Constitution and the international climate commitments made by [Brazil’s current and previous] governments."

Postponement of the voting will give both politicians and the public more time to analyse the implications of the changes to the law.

Of course it’s not only opponents of the changes who are seizing the opportunity of more time. It’s already clear that the agribusiness lobby plan to use the coming months to reverse some of the positive amendments to the text that were made in the Senate this autumn. And that means we will have to work hard to keep environmental issues on the agenda.

"We are calling on society to be vigilant in regard to this highly complex issue,” warns WWF‘s CEO in Brazil, Maria Cecília Wey de Brito, who urges Brazilians to ensure that the House of Representatives does not approve the text without correcting its flaws.

“President Dilma Rousseff made a commitment during her election campaign that she would not permit any new waves of deforestation. It is of fundamental importance that she should exercise her power of veto and eliminate those amendments that concede amnesty for environmental crimes and stimulate new deforestation."

Last month, WWF and a coalition of concerned NGOs in Brazil handed over a petition of 1.5 million signatures to the President. The petition represents the voices of Brazilians who oppose the law - which a recent poll found to be as much as 80% of the population.

We gave our backing to those voices by launching an international email campaign. You can send an email to President Rousseff today.


While the current draft of the law (revised by the Senate) is an improvement on the original proposal, there are still many clauses that we consider unacceptable. Here’s a snapshot…

(To recap first on the current law: in the Amazon, landowners are legally required to preserve 80% of the forest on their land. Any deforestation beyond 20% is illegal, which leads to fines and the obligation to restore the deforested area. There are also certain areas that are permanently protected from deforestation because of their role in preventing soil erosion and flooding, like steep slopes, hilltops and riverbanks. Again, deforestation is illegal and subject to fines and restoration.)

The revised Forest Law would:

Provide amnesty for areas illegally deforested before July 2008, including riversides and springs, and reduce the obligation to reforest.

Alter the definition of a hilltop, making many areas more vulnerable.

Make it possible to obtain amnesty and exemption from reforestation simply through a declaration that the deforestation took place before 2008, with no requirement for objective proofs like satellite monitoring.

Make it possible, in cases where some form of restoration is still required, to use non-native species for 50% of the area, which could fuel the planting of oil palm or eucalyptus monocultures and negatively impact biodiversity.

Allow illegal deforestation to be compensated for through restoration in places other than where the deforestation took place, condemning whole regions to become 'monoculture deserts' especially in the Brazilian south and south-east.

Allow highly polluting activities like shrimp farming in coastal areas that are fundamental to mangrove swamp ecology.

We'll keep you up to date with developments - and we’ll be calling on you in the New Year to help step up the pressure on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who still has the power to veto destructive elements of the proposed changes to the law.

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