As Brazil gears up to host the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, it is being strongly criticized for a failure to stop the destruction of the Amazon rain forest.
At the end of last month, in a partial victory for massive international pressure, Brazilian President Dilma Roussef partially vetoed a logging bill. The bill would have allowed large scale destruction of the Amazon forest to resume and pardoned illegal loggers.
Rousseff opposed the bill, but the country’s powerful farming lobby won over enough MPs in Brazil’s Congress last month to over-rule her.
Rousseff rejected 12 articles from the bill and made 32 modifications to the text.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said that the partial veto broke up “an already complicated piece of legislation [and] will make the revised Forest Code extraordinarily difficult to implement.”
WWF director general Jim Leape said:
For the last decade, Brazil has been on a path of economic and environmental progress. President Rousseff’s statement creates an uncertain future for Brazilian forests, considering that Congress could still cut forest protections even further.
One vetoed element reportedly included amnesty provisions, which were conditional in that perpetrators must enroll in a government-sponsored conservation program and abide by the rules — though there were no clear guidelines for these programs. But the coalition group Comitę Brasil in Defense of the Forests said that amnesties in the new Forest Code will absolve previous illegal deforesters of fines, and remove obligations to completely restore illegally deforested areas.
They also say that:
Illegal deforestation carried out around springs and headwaters, in mangrove swamps and other wetlands, has been pardoned.
Protections for hilltops and other sensitive areas have been reduced, which will increase the risk of landslides.
The amount of forest that must be left intact along riverbanks – previously ranging from 30-500 meters wide – has been severely reduced, and now ranges from only 5 metres to 100 metres, which will increase the risk of flooding.
The restoration of vegetation alongside rivers and other sensitive areas can now be accomplished using eucalyptus and other non-native species, allowing biodiversity-rich forests to be replaced by monoculture plantations.
For the BBC, Paulo Cabral wrote that:
President Rousseff opted for a solution often used here for controversial issues: try to leave everybody more or less reasonably satisfied, if not totally happy, and postpone tough discussions for later.
She vetoed some aspects of the new law that most concerned environmentalists, such as loopholes reducing mandatory reforestation and an amnesty for past deforestation.
Cabral notes that Presidential degrees replacing some bill articles still have to go through a divided Congress.
Increased enforcement of the Forest Code, which dates back to 1965, and that this law amends, has slowed deforestation in recent years, with authorities using satellite images to track clearance. Under that code, landowners must keep a percentage of their terrain forested, ranging from 20% in some regions to 80% in the Amazon.
Greenpeace blocked a freighter from being loaded with iron in the port of Sao Luis in the northern Brazilian state of Maranhao in protest against the partial veto and because the pig iron industry is driving destruction in the Amazon as it requires huge amounts of wood charcoal to be produced.
Said Kenzo Juca Ferreira, of WWF-Brazil:
With the eyes of the world on Brazil for Rio+20, we will keep up the pressure to protect our forests. The whole world needs to know of the huge discrepancy between talk and action in Brazil.
Map by visionshare