The hidden reality in Dilma's Forest Code 'veto'

Feature story - 1 June, 2012
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff tried to create the illusion last week that she was vetoing the very worst parts of Brazil's new Forest Code to protect the Amazon rainforest. The reality, however, is entirely different.

Activists around the world rallied to support a full veto of the new Forest Code


On Monday, Dilma Rousseff's administration finally released the text of the partial vetoes and moderations and far from a straightforward veto, the text has taken some time to weed through and figure out. And guess what? It's not good news.

Our analysis of the text shows that Dilma has done nothing to strengthen the protection of the Amazon. In fact, this is the latest blow for the Amazon from a government that is systematically dismantling Brazil's environmental protection measures and comes just weeks before Brazil will host the Rio+20 Earth Summit.

Here is the breakdown of what Dilma's changes to the Forest Code actually mean in plain language:


Last Friday, the government claimed that the amnesty clause for past forest crimes was vetoed, but from the details that were provided on Monday we learned that this is simply not true!

The amnesty clause for areas deforested before July 2008 is still part of the package. The offender does not have to pay the fine, and even worse, does not have to recover the area deforested.

This amnesty clause for illegal deforestation applies to all real estate with up to 4 modules (one module in the Amazon is more or less 100 hectares) regardless of the so-called "household production model".

Without including this "household production model" it is unclear whether the owner of a property is a small scale farmer or a large scale farmer with several properties. So this means that anyone (including big deforesters) can profit from the amnesty clause.

Decrease of the Legal Reserve

Under the old Forest Code, landowners in the Amazon biome were required to keep 80 percent of their property forested, the so-called Legal Reserve, but the new code will in some cases reduce the amount of Legal Reserve that farmers must maintain.

In states that have forest lands accounting for more than 65 percent of their territory, farms can now reduce forest cover from 80 percent of their property to just 50 percent. We believe this is totally unacceptable.

This measure immediately affects the state of Amapá. This state has preserved most of its rainforest area and could now be confronted with huge losses because of this change to the Forest Code. So the best forest protectors are being hit the hardest!

Decreased protection on hills and along riverbeds

The new Forest Code will result in increased deforestation on hillsides and riverbeds by allowing farmers and ranchers to occupy these lands that were protected under the old Forest Code.

Inadequate Rural Environmental Registry

Under the new law, the Rural Environmental Registration (CAR), a mandatory mapping and registration system for rural properties, can be done using only one coordinate of geo-referencing instead of mapping the boundaries of the property.

This change in registration makes it difficult, if not impossible, to enforce and control forest protection legislation. If the boundaries of the property are not known, it is also impossible to check whether a famer respects the Legal Reserve and has logged only the amount of area allowed.

On top of this, the registration will be decentralised. Under the new code, municipalities can do the registration, which inevitably reduces transparency as it will be difficult, if not impossible, to have access to this data.

So what now?

Put together, all these changes to the Forest Code will result in an increase in deforestation. Brazil has missed a golden opportunity to prove that economic development and environmental protection can go hand in hand.

So we must continue to fight for the forest. More than 300,000 Brazilians have already signed a petition calling for a Zero Deforestation law that would offer full protection for the Amazon. You can join them.

Greenpeace is calling on President Rousseff to listen to the Brazilian people and put Brazil on a path of sustainable development. Only then can she truly be considered a world leader for sustainable development and a president acting on behalf of the people of Brazil.