New Forest Code to determine fate of Brazil’s forests

BOGOR, Indonesia (15 August, 2011)_Millions of hectares of Brazilian forest are under threat from proposed changes to Brazil’s Forest Code which could see an increase in deforestation rates in the Amazon and have serious implications for REDD+ projects, said CIFOR scientist Peter May.
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Photo by Neil Palmer/CIAT.

BOGOR, Indonesia (15 August, 2011)_Millions of hectares of Brazilian forest are under threat from proposed changes to Brazil’s Forest Code which could see an increase in deforestation rates in the Amazon and have serious implications for REDD+ projects, said CIFOR scientist Peter May.

“The forest code is the one deal maker around REDD+ in Brazil and will be instrumental in denoting the seriousness with which the government of Brazil is now taking control of deforestation,” he added.

The proposed changes – which have yet to be agreed by the Senate – would see a softening of laws and regulations that prevent landholders from clearing forested land for commercial purposes. Up to 85 million hectares of forest could be opened up for agricultural or timber production, with landholders under no obligation to reforest deforested areas.

The new Forest Code could have serious implications for climate mitigation schemes- such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) – which aims to reduce deforestation by compensating developing countries to protect their forests.

Currently, farms and settlements in the Amazon have to conserve 80 percent of the forest on their land for use in the sustainable management of timber. Under the proposed new Forest Code, this could be reduced to 50 percent in large areas with smaller areas exempt from restrictions. The new Code would also grant amnesty to land holders that have previously illegally deforested.

The revised bill could be a huge setback for REDD+ schemes which would need robust law enforcement by the state combined with strong incentives to ensure its success.

“The changes to the Forest Code bill completely contradict the objectives of REDD+. Without punishment or sanctions, there are no incentives for forest managers who have illegally deforested for years to stop their activities, while on the other hand, people that have been complying to the law and keeping the forests intact, receive no reward or recognition,” said Maria Fernanda Gebara, CIFOR scientist.

Concerns that the new bill has already given the green light to land owners to deforest have recently been confirmed. In Mato Grosso, western Brazil, deforestation rates have reportedly increased by over 500 percent.

With the proposed changes under review, the fate of world’s largest rainforest now rests with the Senate and President Dilma Rousseff. It is hoped that appeals by NGOs and civil societies as well as strong support from leading deputies, can undo some of most harmful legislation before it is finally approved.

With the fourth Earth Summit being held in Rio de Janeiro next year, Brazil will be under increasing pressure to demonstrate its commitment made in Copenhagen to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2020. If the bill goes ahead, Brazil’s global reputation as a leader in the fight against deforestation and climate change will be severely undermined.

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