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Brazilian president vetoes controversial amnesty amendment in Forest Code

Tiffany Stecker, E&E reporter
Published: Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff vetoed the most controversial parts of the country's revised Forest Code on Friday, to the disappointment of some environmentalists who say it still does not go far enough to protect the country's rainforests.

Rousseff vetoed 12 articles in the latest text of the code, passed by the Brazilian Congress last month. These would have granted amnesty to farmers and ranchers who had illegally cleared protected land before July 2008 and would have loosened requirements to maintain conservation areas around agricultural land and streams.

Rousseff signed five new provisionary laws and modified 32 articles, substituting some of the articles with text offered by the more moderate Senate last December. The president's decision comes just weeks before Brazil will host the United Nations' Rio+20 meeting on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said this complicated partial veto and modifications would make the Forest Code "extraordinarily difficult to implement" and that a complete veto would have been the most environmentally sound decision.

"Today's actions send a murky message about Brazil's commitment to environmental protection," said Jim Leape, director-general of WWF International.

Greenpeace campaigners agreed that a partial veto, one in which only the worst parts of a bad law were removed, was inadequate.

Environmental groups split

"President Dilma's vague delivery of vetoes and modifications to new Forest Code leaves the people of Brazil without any assurances that the Amazon will be protected," said Paulo Adario, Greenpeace Brazil's Amazon campaign director.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) cautiously endorsed Rousseff's move, adding that the future of the country's forests hinges on the president's executive order on the code, expected Monday.

"We're not out of the woods yet," said Jennifer Haverkamp, international climate program director for EDF.

Brazil's Institute for Applied Economic Research found that -- in the worst-case scenario -- Congress' version of the code could lead to the disappearance of 76.5 million hectares (190 million acres) of forest, putting 28 billion metric tons of added CO2 in the atmosphere. Brazil has pledged to reduce deforestation by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

While a full veto would have been preferable, the partial veto did manage to strike the most threatening amendments to Brazil's climate goals, said Doug Boucher, director of the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"It's not as good as a full veto would be been, but that didn't seem likely over the last couple of weeks," said Boucher. The removal of the amnesty article is especially relieving, he said, as it would have weakened the justification of other forest protection provisions.

"If you don't maintain the law, that's an enormous loss in terms of carbon," he said.

Amazon remains under threat

While the worst-case scenarios for the effects of the code are possible, they neglect important economic drivers of deforestation, said Boucher.

The majority of the Amazon rainforest, the largest rainforest in the world, lies within Brazil's borders. Brazilian deforestation rates have dropped steadily, down 68 percent since 2005, with a precipitous 11 percent reduction in just the past year, according to the Brazilian space agency.

Nearly one-fifth of the world's greenhouse gases come from deforestation. Last November, risk analysis group Maplecroft identified Brazil as one of the top 10 countries vulnerable to deforestation.

"Deforestation has been decreasing in Brazil following a peak in 2004," states the report. "However, forests in Brazil are still under threat and deforestation may accelerate in the future, should proposals to change the Brazilian Forest Protection Law [Forest Code] be enacted."

Brazil's agriculture and cattle industry, represented by legislators from the country's rural interior, have pushed to amend the code to drop legal charges for farmers who have violated it.

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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