Activists are warning that a proposed revamping of Brazil’s tough environmental law could roll back recent historic gains in the fight against Amazon deforestation by opening parts of the rainforest to farming and increasing impunity for violators.
Brazil’s agricultural lobby, which has maintained a decade-long fight for changes to the country’s Forest Code, contends the bill would make pragmatic changes to an overly strict law that is unfair to farmers and ranchers.
The bill was approved by Brazil’s Senate in December and is expected to be easily passed by the lower house of Congress on Tuesday. It would then go to President Dilma Rousseff, who has said she opposes parts of the reform and has promised to use her line-item veto powers on the proposed legislation.
“If this passes it will be a disaster for the environment, it will clearly lead to more deforestation and create an amnesty for those who have broken the law,” said Paulo Adario, coordinator of Greenpeace’s Amazon campaign who in February won a United Nations’ “Forest Hero” award. “I see only more destruction in the future if this becomes law.”
Brazil says that beginning in 2008 it implemented a “shock and awe” approach to environmental protection, dropping hundreds of agents into areas where satellite monitoring spotted the most rampant destruction. Amazon deforestation slowed and hit its lowest recorded level from August 2010 through July 2011 when just 2,410 square miles (6,240 square kilometers) was felled. Scientists say, however, that nearly 20 percent of the Amazon has already been cleared.
The bill before the House would leave untouched a key protection that requires farmers and ranchers to preserve or replant trees on a percentage of their lands. In the Amazon the requirement is 80 percent, while it ranges from 35 percent to 20 percent elsewhere.
But environmentalists fear that other protections would be eroded and punishments weakened at just the wrong time.