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Brazil’s Forest Law: lots happening - not all of it good...

30 September 2011

An update on the worrying proposals to relax Brazil’s Forest Law - which more and more people acknowledge would be a bad move for the country’s environmental future, as well as the global climate.

Just a reminder of the story so far: four separate ‘commissions’ in Brazil's Senate have been tasked with looking at the proposals to relax the Forest Law (or ‘Forest Code’ as it’s also called), the draft text for which was given the initial go-ahead in parliament in May.

The first of the four commissions - the Constitution and Justice Committee - has looked at whether the new proposal is compatible with Brazil’s constitution.

On 21 September (ironically Brazil’s National Tree Day), this committee voted in favour of the draft proposal, after four hours’ discussion. Only five of the 23 senators on the committee expressed any opposition to the text.

It was also decided that the 90-odd amendments already suggested by Senators would only be considered by the other three committees - for Science and Technology, Agriculture and the Environment.

But the fight is far from over. And every day seems to bring new actions and protests from those intent on resisting the Forest Law changes and putting Brazil squarely back on the road to sustainable development.

Our colleagues at WWF-Brazil are asking the federal government to shoulder its responsibilities and step in to block the changes, which they fear will “promote deforestation and pardon environmental crimes.”

They also make the point that it’s not just an environmentalism issue - agricultural producers will lose as well. Some of the changes being proposed will jeopardise not only forests but also water resources and the quality of soils, and could make it increasingly difficult for Brazil’s farmers to access international markets where sustainability is a growing criterion.

Brazilian society hits back over Forest Law
Society at large continues to mobilise in a bid to have its opinions properly represented and its citizenship respected.

One such effort was the recent ‘First Marathon of Explanatory Information on Changes to the Forest Law’ - a 72-hour live internet transmission that attracted people from all over Brazil, not to mention 24 million Twitter users worldwide.

Among the many public protest events was one by the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops, who formalised the church’s position against the proposed changes, saying the Forest Law should be about protecting the interests of small farmer and future generations.

And there’s been a Climate Justice Panel and legal debates involving former Brazilian environment minister Marina Silva, who has publicly accused the Senate of being unwilling to accept society's opinions on this.

Petition signatures have been pouring in too, as people become increasingly aware of the dangerous impacts the changes could have on them and their cities as well as on the natural environment.

As the president of the Bar Association’s Environmental Law Committee pointed out: “The debate surrounding the Forest Law reform bill is not only an issue that affects the environment - it is also a question of citizenship and human rights.”

Latest Forest Law developments in parliament
At a Senate hearing on 27 September, representatives of the Brazilian scientific community presented studies showing that modest investments in recuperating land degraded by cattle-raising can lead to increased production of food crops and guarantee important environmental services.

This is in stark contrast to allegations made by agribusiness and big landholding interests (the ‘ruralistas’), who claim the high cost of recuperating land makes the enforcement of the current Forest Law unfeasible.

We hold to the view that many of the distortions in the original text were a result of the failure to involve the scientific community in the discussion from the beginning. But senators have the opportunity to make amends now.

For example, a spokesperson for the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science told the recent hearing: “Brazil has already developed some of the best technology in the world for the restoration of land and soils, and that is largely a result of the requirements set out in the Forest Law enacted in 1965. Other countries that do not have such legislation in place are anxious to learn from us.”

At the hearing the senators present were agreed on the need to create financial mechanisms to reward those rural producers that preserve their legal reserve areas and the areas under Permanent Protection.

There was also an emphasis on the need for incentives to stimulate the recuperation of degraded areas, involving the offer of technical assistance, seeds and seedlings to small-scale farmers.

Next steps? We sincerely hope that over the next few weeks the other committees will grasp the responsibility and make the alterations to the proposals that Brazilian society is clamouring for.

The finalised text will then go before a plenary session of the Senate to be voted on (possibly as early as the end of October, but may be later in the year), before going back to the House of Representatives, and finally to the president. We'll keep you posted about the developments in this important issue.

You can…

Get more details about the proposed changes to Brazil’s Forest Law

Find out more about our work to protect the world’s forests

Donate to Sky Rainforest Rescue and help save a billion trees in the Brazilian Amazon

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