Main Brazilian presidential candidates oppose illegal deforestation amnesty

Posted on October, 01 2010

The four main candidates for president in the Brazilian elections on Sunday have declared themselves opposed to key points in a controversial legislative proposal to reduce safeguards against forest loss.
Brasilia, Brazil: The four main candidates for president in the Brazilian elections on Sunday have declared themselves opposed to key points in a controversial legislative proposal to reduce safeguards against forest loss.

Opposition by the candidates was strongest against provisions which would grant an amnesty to major past acts of illegal deforestation.

The candidates, Dilma Rousseff (Workers’ Party), José Serra (Social Democratic Party), Marina Silva (Green Party) and Plínio de Arruda Sampaio (Socialist Party), were responding to a questionnaire prepared by the SOS Florestas alliance - 12 environmental organisations which include WWF-Brasil.

SOS Florestas alliance members recently handed the answers of the candidates into the President of the Electoral High Court, Ricardo Lewandowski, with the effect that they were then attached to the candidates’ registered programmes of government.

In one way or another, all the candidates recognised that catastrophic events like landslides and floods occurring in Brazil with considerable numbers of victims are directly related to removal of the vegetation cover and irregular occupation of the land in fragile areas, the alliance noted.

In addition to adopting a stance against granting amnesty to those that have carried out illegal deforestation, candidates defended the need to recuperate such deforested areas and stimulate the regularization of land tenure of all properties without having recourse to any alterations in the law.

Proposal downgrades protection for steep slopes and stream fringes

The four candidates believe that it is a mistake to consider that the protection of forests is a hindrance to agribusiness as claimed by those that supported the report behind the current legislative proposal, which downgrades protected area requirements for private land, steep land and watercourse fringes.

Brazil’s Forest Code and the increasing effectiveness of satellite surveillance of forests and enforcement measures have been credited with a major role in the country’s success in reducing deforestation and related carbon emissions.

Conversely, passage though a key congress committee of the proposal to wind back protections has been linked to an marked upsurge in forest fires across the country, many illegal. Early last month, Brazil looked set to exceed the highest fire levels of the past five years with environment minister Izabella Teixeira blaming “the usual illegal practices”.

All of the candidates’ answers showed that they considered it the duty of private landowners and not just the State, to preserve the standing forests on their properties. Socialist Party candidate Plínio de Arruda Sampaio explicitly defended the need to create legislation that will make it mandatory for private landowners to preserve the forests on their lands.

When asked about the relations between possible alterations to the Forest Law and the National Policy on Climate Change, all of the candidates agreed that it would not be possible to achieve the Brazilian emission reduction goals if the proposed bill is sanctioned in the form in which it was approved by the special committee on June 6 of this year.

The candidates also admitted the need to develop a genuinely forest-based economy, reduce deforestation to zero, adopt appropriate new instruments and conduct research.

All four presidential candidates stressed the need for more dialogue with society at large on the issue so that a legislative proposal that merely addresses the immediate interests of a given sector is not approved as it stands.

Opposition candidates accused the Lula government of having taken a dubious attitude to the issue but Dilma Rousseff declared that the government was in fact already moving towards a position favouring wider dialogue

In the view of the environmental organisations that drew up the questionnaire, only a narrow range of so-called “ruralist” and land owning interests were given a significant say in drawing up the proposed changes to the Forest Code – with scientific views particularly neglected. The candidates have promised wider and more representative consultations on the Forest Code.

The proposal will come before the chamber of deputies for analysis after the elections but no definite date has been fixed for including the text on the parliamentary agenda.

Organizations supporting the questionaire to candidates were the Associação Ambientalista Copaíba, the Fundação SOS Mata Atlântica, Greenpeace, the Grupo Ambientalista da Bahia, the Instituto Ambiental Vidagua, the Instituto Centro de Vida, the Instituto de Manejo e Certificação Florestal e Agrícola, the Instituto Socioambiental, Mater Natura – Instituto de Estudos Ambientais, Mira-serra, Rede de ONGs da Mata Atlântica and WWF-Brasil.

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 / Mark Edwards