Brazil’s proposed new forest code draws fire from environmentalists

Brazil’s proposed new forest code draws fire from environmentalists

05 December 2011

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Brazil/South Africa — Brasilia/Durban,South Africa – Brazil’s new forest code that would free up more land for agriculture is to be voted on by the Senate on Tuesday amid protests by global environmental groups.

The new code, passed by the lower House of Representatives earlier this year, is backed by the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock, which said in a press release that the changes are essential ‘if Brazil wants to preserve its position as one of the largest food exporters in the world.’

The confederation said the law would conserve 61 per cent of Brazil’s original forestland, 18 per cent of which is in rural landholdings.

But environmental activists assembled in the South African city of Durban for annual United Nations talks on climate change and global warming charged that the move will increase deforestation, keep Brazil from meeting ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions and tarnish Brazil’s image as an environmental leader.

Brazil will next year host the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Rio biodiversity conference that launched the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

‘If changes to the law are adopted, an area of about 79 million hectares (about the size of France and the UK combined) would be left unprotected, according to the Government of Brazil’s Institute for Applied Economy Research,’ the environmental group WWF said in a statement.

WWF said that up to 29 gigatons of carbon dioxide could be emitted and not held in the soil as a result of the new code, which would allow new deforestation and give amnesty to deforested areas that had been earmarked for restoration to forests.

The Amazon, which spreads across Brazil and other South American countries, is the world’s largest green lung, but it is fast disappearing due to agriculture and other pursuits. A major issue in on the agenda in Durban is boosting efforts to preserve and restore forests. Deforestation currently accounts for 20 per cent of global carbon emissions that are blamed for global warming.

The environmental commission of the Brazilian Senate has already approved the proposed changes in the forest code, making it likely that the Senate will adopt it. The vote is expected Tuesday.

President Dilma Roussef could veto the law if it passes. During her campaign for the presidency, she said in a letter to a former official that she agreed ‘with a veto’ on proposals that would reduce areas of legal reserve and protected areas, according to WWF.

From 2006 to 2010, Brazil cut the rate of deforestation in the Amazon by half compared to the previous five years, WWF said.

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