RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (12.06.12)_Two weeks ago Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff vetoed critical elements of a proposal to reform the Brazilian Forest Code which had recently passed the Brazilian Congress. The changes are set to have implications for farms across the country and in particular the largest tracts of rainforest in the world, in the Amazon region.
- Remission of fines: Fines and mandatory reforestation laws would have been waivered for past offenders who had illegally deforested riverbank vegetation before July 2008. Under President Rousseff’s provisionary law, past offenders are able to escape the fine conditional on meeting a set of minimum reforestation standards.
- Smallholders: The reform proposal was unspecific about what exceptions would be made for smallholders and their reforestation requirements after past offences. The provisionary law now specifies minimum reforestation standards in order to differentiate between small and large landholdings.
- Credit access: The reform proposal would have allowed past offenders to obtain access to rural credit without reforesting illegally deforested areas. The provisionary law proposes to cut off access to credit if offenders fail to reforest within five years of its publication.
These provisionary measures could result in considerably higher reforestation costs for past deforestation offenders who stood to benefit from the fine remissions proposed in the original reform text. However, beyond the demonstration of the State’s will to seriously follow-up on past environmental offenses, these measures will have a limited impact on the conservation of remaining natural forests. Notably, the controversial reduction of Amazon minimum “legal reserve” forests from 80% to 50%, was not vetoed.
Yet, in the heat of the debate, many may forget that the prime cause of past deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has not been the lack of ambitious legislation, but rather the lack of political will to enforce it. This has gradually changed over the past decade, with deforestation rates consequently falling from close to 30 thousand square kilometers per year to little less than 10 thousand since 2009. Even after Mrs. Rousseff’s vetoes, the new Forest Code may increase the threats to forests in legal terms. However, the degree of effective enforcement of the new laws will still be more important the fate of the Amazon forest.