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Brazil’s government grants amnesty to environmental criminals while weakening forest protections

New legislation has removed Brazil’s long-standing Forest Code, weakening protections for the country’s natural heritage, pardoning illegal deforesters, promoting new waves of deforestation and dismantling incentive schemes for recovering critical forest areas.

The Brazilian government on Monday issued new legislation that grants amnesties and promotes impunity for environmental criminals, and significantly weakens legal protections for forests across Brazil, according to Comitê Brasil in Defense of the Forests –a coalition of more than 200 civil society entities, including WWF-Brazil.

According to the committee, amnesties included in various articles of the new Forest Code absolve past illegal deforesters of fines and remove obligations to completely restore illegally deforested areas – including areas of significant social and ecological value.

Illegal deforestation carried out around springs and headwaters, in mangrove swamps and other wetlands, has been forgiven, and the restoration of vegetation alongside rivers and other sensitive areas (Areas of Permanent Protection) can now be accomplished using eucalyptus and other exotic species. Protections for hilltops, also classified as Areas of Permanent Protection, have also been reduced.

The amount of forest that must be left intact along riverbanks – previously ranging from 30 to 500 meters wide, depending on river size – has been severely reduced, and now ranges from five to 100 meters.

“There will be losses in the quality and quantity of waters, and losses for the conservation of biodiversity. The concept of Areas of Permanent Protection has become meaningless”, said André Lima, Public Policies Coordinator at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute.

The new legislation does away with an article designating a certain percentage of taxes levied on electricity and water treatment to the recovery of Areas of Permanent Protection. This was in fact the only economic provision in the legislation that supported the recovery of these critical areas.

According to Kenzo Juca Ferreira, public policies specialist for WWF-Brazil, the collection of over two million signatures petitioning for a total veto of the egregious legislation reveals the true dimension of sentiment in favour of environmental protections in Brazil and around the world. A recent opinion poll showed that 85 per cent of Brazilians are against granting amnesty to those that have committed illegal deforestation.

“President Dilma Rousseff has broken her campaign promises and squandered an opportunity to be a global environmental leader. 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”, he said.

Raul Valle of the Socio-Environmental Institute said the new Forest Code is “a legal tangle” that will be extremely difficult to implement. “Everything the ruralista faction wished for has been sanctioned”, he added, referring to the bloc representing agribusiness and large landowners.

Alexandre Conceição of the Landless Rural Workers Movement said this legislation would not help Brazil move toward sustainable agriculture; rather, he said, it has been tailored to support production of commodities for export.

“What we really need is to strengthen agrarian reform and reinforce family-based agriculture, which not only creates more employment but produces more food”, said Conceição. “How is Brazil going to call for socio-environmental responsibility on the part of other countries at
Rio+20, if here in Brazil we fail to defend our forests and our family-based agriculture?”, he said.


For further information:

In UK: Robin Clegg, tel: 07771 818707 email:
In Brazil: Regina Cavini tel: +55 61 8165 6812 email: reginacavini@wwf.org.br

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