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Brazil's forest code: complicated but critical

Posted by Danny Smits on 04/05/12 14:00 PM

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Over the next three weeks you’ll hear a lot from WWF-UK and other environmental organisations about something called Brazil’s forest code/law. The reason for this is that Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff now has only a small window of time to put the brakes on recent negative changes to a law that has been so critical for protecting Brazil’s precious forests.

We’re going to make some noise about this law because it matters.

It actually matters a lot.

Why?

Well please give me six paragraphs of your time and I’ll try to explain.

Firstly let me say that internal Brazilian politics is often utterly bewildering to those on the outside and just trying to get your head round the forest code issue has been a mission in itself. I’m pretty new to it and despite being in regular contact with my Brazilian colleagues it can still be difficult to follow the machinations and permutations of the situation. But over the last few weeks a number of things have become clear.

After making massive strides forward in terms of tackling deforestation and protecting its incredible forests like the Amazon, the last few months have seen Brazilian politics (in the congress especially) do a massive u-turn towards potentially very destructive policies.

One of the central tenets of the old forest code as it stood until last week, was that it threatened prosecution on those found to have illegally deforested. (There’s a lot of details here but basically the forest code sets out certain types of land and a percentage of forest that landowners have to protect by law.) But major pressure placed on national legislators by powerful regional argibusiness lobbies intent on expanding agricultural production has now seen these laws severely weakened.

Most worryingly, the new, potentially massively destructive forest code revision would allow people who have deforested before 2008 to get off scot-free from their crimes. And no proof, other than a statement from the landowner themself, is needed to show that deforestation in fact happened before the cut-off date. This spreads the very worrying message that illegal deforestation isn’t a serious crime, and it has already encouraged further deforestation in critical habitats.

The public opposition in Brazil to the forest code change has been fierce, demonstrations have been seen across many of the major cities against the changes. Recent polls have only highlighted the power of the lobbies in the face of public opinion; 80% of Brazilian people oppose the changes but 80% of congress has been supporting them. Over the next three weeks we want to come together with the people of Brazil and say we care about their forests.

We may never visit the Amazon, we may never see or hear the delights it holds, but we know that areas like this are worth protecting and that our call together with the people of Brazil to president Dilma needs to succeed.

So over the next couple of weeks (six paragraphs now over - thanks for staying with us), if you hear us or someone else say forest code, please sign our petition, share it, please like it or tweet it. Take just a couple of minutes out and do whatever you can to help us send the message that these forests may be far from home but they are very close to our hearts.

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Research carried out in the Amazon rainforest, Peru