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Brazil: huge defeat for environmentalists

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dilma-rousseff-innovationDilma Rousseff: a lot to think about.On Wednesday 25 April the landowner lobby inflicted what is being described as a ‘historic reverse’ on Dilma Rousseff’s government by getting the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies to pass a version of the Forest Code that amnesties owners that deforest and drastically reduces protected areas. The bill now goes to the President for signature. Environmental NGOs are organising to press for President Dilma to use her veto. For the background to the debate see the interview with João Paulo Capobianco.

The bill was massively supported by the PMDB, the main ally of the PT in government. The only parties that voted against the bill were the PT, the Green Party and the left PSOL. The government is described as having been ‘totally disorganised’ during the debate.

We reproduce below extracts from an analysis by the São Paulo-based Instituto Socioambiental:

‘The landowner lobby succeeded in voting through all the changes proposed by the sponsor of the bill, Paulo Piau (PMDB-MG), and overturned all the vetoes that sought to reduce the damage to environmental legislation, thus restoring the essence of the bill approved by the Chamber of Deputies in May last year and removing the few improvements inserted by the Senate in December.

‘One element of protection removed from the bill that came from the Senate was that relating to marshland areas (swamps, marshes, igapó forests, etc.), forest areas on the edge of rural communities and river banks in urban areas, which is fundamental for reducing the impact of floods.

‘Another element overturned was the provision that obliged farmers to sign on to the Rural Environmental Register within five years to maintain their right to receive state loans and the obligation for this information to be available online. These two requirements are regarded as essential for control of deforestation to be effective

‘ “Tonight this House has torn up the Forest Code and is putting at risk Brazil’s biospheres,” said Janete Capiberibe (PSB-AP). The leader of the Green Party, Deputy José Sarney Filho, claimed that “all the reduction in deforestation achieved in recent years by the current legal provisions is now under threat.”

Key points

• On hill-tops the bill approved by the deputies removes the obligation to reforest areas deforested before 2008, allows pasture and the planting of perennial shrub and tree species (apple, grape vine, orange, eucalyptus, etc.)

• The approved text also confirms the right to all sort of agricultural activities in hillsides with a slope of up to 45º and the planting of tree species on slopes with an angle of more than 45º.

• Piau removed from the text the only provision that, by authorising the reforesting of permanently protected areas to an extent greater than that defined in the law, could have protected river basins with critical levels of deforestation.

• Another mechanism approved by the deputies automatically reduces permanently protected areas on river banks by stipulating that they should be measured on the basis of the ‘normal river bed’, and no longer by the river width in flood, as required by current legislation. This measure alone could leave unprotected up to 60% of these areas in the Amazon region.

• The text approved by the deputies removes protection from springs and intermittent rivers, which constitute a considerable part of the hydrological network, especially in the Caatinga [the semi-arid regions of the interior of the North-East, LAB] and the Cerrado [the scrubland typical of the Centre-West, LAB]. According to the São Paulo Ombudsman’s office, in the Federal District alone, this type of permanently protected area accounts for 70% of water courses.