Bill to slash Amazon protection passes crucial vote



Posted on 07 July 2010  | 
Many fires in the Amazon are often started to clear land for cattle and other development activities. Aerial shot of a forest fire in Acre State, Brazil.
© WWF-Canon / Mark EdwardsEnlarge
Brasilia, Brazil:  Amendments to Brazil's Forest Code that could sanction dramatic increases in deforestation passed a crucial vote in the Congress's Special Committee on Forest Law Changes last night, an outcome lamented by scientists, environmental and social NGOs and indigenous groups.

Gradual strengthening of the Forest Code and more recent improvements in enforcement have been credited with playing a major role in Brazil's success in winding back horrifying levels of deforestation in the Amazon and other areas over recent years.

However, the new alternate bill threatens to open up an additional 85 million hectares for legal clearing in the Amazon, reduce the level of forest cover protecting river and stream banks and steep slopes, and pass much of the control of landclearing into the hands of regional and local authorities much more under the influence of large landowners and agribusiness interests.

The bill also proposes amnesties on existing fines for illegal clearing, a measure some associate with the January establishmnet of an improved land registry that in combination with satellite imagery is making enforcement more effective.  Research presented at a seminar in May by scientists and NGOs including WWF showed clearing exceeding the legal requirements by over 40 per cent.

The bill now goes to the Congress generally where it is expected to pass, following which it will be subject to Presidential assent or veto.  When this happens will largely be influenced by Brazil's elections, due in October.  While the bill threatens an informal understanding that controversial legislation generally takes a back seat in the immediate run-up to elections, there is also a tradition of sometimes outlandish legislative proposals being pushed through as the old parliament continues to sit for the remainder of the year.

In WWF-Brazil's opinion, the changes were hardly debated and, if the bill is passed by the Lower House as is, it will nullify all the efforts that the Brazilian Government has been making to conserve Brazil's forests.

While detractors of the Forest Law argue that the existing legislation is outdated, WWF-Brazil's Conservation Director Carlos Alberto de Mattos Scaramuzza underscores that this is a forward-looking law insofar as the existing Forest Law protects Brazil's agricultural production and huge biodiversity against the impacts of climate change by means of the ecological services provided by the so-called permanent protection areas (APPs) and legal reserves (RL).

"The existing law not only seeks to ensure natural resources, fertile lands and high-quality, abundant water are available, but also to reduce risks associated with climate changes and the resulting increase in extreme climate events. Compliance with the Forest Law staves off soil erosion and landslides, and protects sources and rivers, which are vital for agriculture," said Carlos Alberto Mattos Scaramuzza, WWF-Brazil's Conservation Director.

WWF-Brazil stressed that more adequate alternatives for balancing environment and development have been put forward by researchers, civil society, and the Ministério Público (Office of the Public Prosecutor), but a choice was made for a backward option without any consideration of the consequences.

"It is up to WWF-Brazil to call on Brazilian Congressmen, NGOs, researchers, and farmers so that the very imperfections and redundancies in the alternate bill do not translate into real obstacles to Brazil's economic and social development as a result of degraded soils, water resources and natural resources," Scaramuzza said.

Also under threat are Brazil's impressive commitments on climate change which mainly relay on continued reductions in deforestation, responsible for about 75 per cent of the country's emissions.
 


Many fires in the Amazon are often started to clear land for cattle and other development activities. Aerial shot of a forest fire in Acre State, Brazil.
© WWF-Canon / Mark Edwards Enlarge

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