Brazilian Amazon rainforest faces biggest threat in recent history

by Sebastian Bock

July 9, 2010

On July 6th, the Brazilian Forest Code, the law which regulates the use of the Amazon rainforest, has suffered the most serious setback in recent history. For years NGOs like Greenpeace, scientists and civil society have been fighting to protect the legislation from being hijacked by corporate interests. Those efforts were threatened when a major revision of the laws was proposed earlier this year.
Greenpeace protesting deforestation in the AmazonWith the final vote by the Special Commission set up for this purpose being 13 to 5 in favor of the changes, the bill is now set to be discussed in the Brazilian Chamber of Representatives later this year. However, the fact that this will delay the process until after the Presidential elections in October is hardly a reason to celebrate. In fact, the upcoming Presidential elections could have disastrous consequences for the passage of the bill. Several politicians are expected to trade approval to the proposed legislation for votes and political support from the powerful agricultural sector during the upcoming campaign.

Those political realities put the Forest Code in immediate danger. Under the existing law, landowners are required to set aside 80% of their lands as Legal Reserves in the Amazon. This protection is now at stake. If the proposed bill becomes law, that area would be reduced to a mere 50% which would legalize the clearing of enormous amounts of forest. For more on the history and importance of the Brazilian Forest Code, check out our recent blog post and watch Greenpeace’s Amazon Campaign Director Paulo Adario speaking on the issue:

Agribusiness, the energy sector and producers of biofuels have been pushing for more deforestation in the future. But it is not their future business prospects alone that these interest groups are worried about. They also are concerned about their past crimes. One of the most outrageous changes is related to the prosecution of those who have broken the existing Forest Code. The new bill includes a clause granting amnesty to environmental crimes like illegal deforestation committed in areas of permanent preservation before July 22nd, 2008. This means that fines and other penalties imposed before this date will be suspended if the proposed legislation passes.

Greenpeace activists holding up a banner saying Although pressure and actions by Greenpeace and others have lead to some last-minute changes, the bill remains more than just flawed. While it does not leave the regulation of deforestation completely in the hands of the states anymore, it still contains several loopholes. State governments, which have always been more receptive to pressure groups, will be able to allow deforestation when they believe public interests to be at stake or when they think that the environmental impact is considerably small.

The overall impact of the proposed changes, however, is anything but small. This is why Greenpeace is urging politicians to repeal the proposed changes and not pass the new Forest Code.

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