Environmentalists pin hopes on presidential veto to reduce harmful impact of weakened legislation
The sound of chainsaws in the Amazon rainforest has faded in recent years as deforestation has slowed, last year dropping to less than one-third of its long-term average. But last week, the lower house of Brazil’s National Congress passed a bill that observers say could drastically reduce forest protection.
An organized coalition of rural agricultural interests prevailed in vote after vote during debates, approving amendments that would, for example, scale back forest protections along rivers and hills, give state and local governments more authority over forests, and relieve landholders of the responsibility of reforesting illegally cleared land. The bill would also eliminate a requirement that landowners seeking agricultural loans from the government register their land, document any illegal clearance and submit a plan to come into compliance if they have cleared forests illegally.
Environmentalists hope that pressure from conservation groups and media attention on next month’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro will influence Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff to veto the most radical elements of the legislation.
Passed by a 274–184 vote on 25 April, the bill is a revision of the country’s ‘forest code’, which includes a requirement that landowners in Brazil maintain a minimum proportion of native forest on their land, ranging from 20% in the Atlantic forest along the coast to 80% in the Amazon basin.
Although the code has been on the books since 1965, enforcement increased in the past decade under Rousseff’s predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. That enforcement, combined with broader agricultural trends and mounting public pressure, has helped Brazil to reduce deforestation to its lowest level in more than 20 years.