Brazil’s Congress has voted to relax laws which protect the Amazon from deforestation. The new forest code now goes to President Dilma Rousseff, who is being urged to veto the bill or at least some of its clauses.
Rousseff opposed the bill, but the country’s powerful farming lobby won over enough MPs to over-rule her and her party. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Greenpeace called the vote: “O início do fim das florestas — the beginning of the end of the rainforest.”
“Brazil has been held hostage to the interests of the agriculture lobby from the outset,” said Paulo Adário of Greenpeace in Brazil. “The agriculture lobby has done everything it could to push through its demands.”
WWF says the law grants amnesty to those who have destroyed rainforest and opens the floodgates to further destruction.
The amnesty is conditional in that perpetrators must enroll in a government-sponsored conservation program and abide by the rules — but there are no clear guidelines for these programs.
Increased enforcement of the Forest Code, which dates back to 1965, has slowed deforestation in recent years, with authorities using satellite images to track clearance. Under that code, landowners must conserve a percentage of their terrain forested, ranging from 20% in some regions to 80% in the Amazon.
Jeff Tollefson points out in Nature: “The fear is that weakening the law will reverse this progress and unleash a wave of new deforestation by convincing farmers and ranchers that Brazil doesn’t have the political will to truly enforce the law.”
Critics of the law say it will encourage more land clearance because government agencies have proved unable to determine when a plot was deforested. Under the new bill, farmers will be able to cultivate land closer to hilltops and riverbanks, which are especially vulnerable to erosion if trees are chopped down.
Watch: ‘Greenpeace: Stopping Amazon Deforestation’:
Deforestation collage by Adrian Kenyon to benefit HUTAN