Brazil has drawn renewed fire from environmental groups after its Congress passed a bill that activists say gives farmers an amnesty for destroying the nation’s forests.
The new forest code – which farmers’ groups argue sets some of the most stringent rules in the world for the protection of forest cover on private land – is a test of the environmental credentials of Dilma Rousseff, the president, who can still veto the bill.
“President Rousseff made a promise that she would not tolerate laws promoting new waves of deforestation or amnesty for past forest crimes,” said Maria Cecilia Wey de Brito, head of WWF-Brazil, an environmental campaign group. “We ask her to uphold her promises.”
The bill, which was pushed by the “ruralistas” or agricultural interests in Congress, throws a spotlight on Brazil only two months before it is due to host the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development.
World leaders are poised to converge on Rio de Janeiro for the conference to decide the future of conservation in an event that marks the two-decade anniversary of the Earth Summit of 1992 that set the stage for the Kyoto protocol on global warming.
The forest code also comes as the Brazilian government is fighting environmentalists over its Belo Monte dam, a hydropower facility being built in the Amazonian state of Pará, and other such plants elsewhere in the Amazon.
“This new legislation will prevent new deforestation while at the same time recognising the importance of the agriculture sector for the Brazilian economy,” said Ahasuerus Dock Veronez, an official with the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock, known as the CNA.
The CNA argues that successive changes in forestry laws have criminalised Brazilian farmers by retrospectively increasing the amount of natural vegetation they are required to keep on their land, even after they have cleared it.