Compiled by Elizabeth Sweitzer – Brazil Institute, 6/27/2012
The outcome of last week’s Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development foreshadowed the need for continued international cooperation concerning the environment, while also pointing to the economic implications of sustainable development. While the Conference’s outcome was met with mixed feelings, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered optimistic remarks on various international achievements while signaling to the U.S.’s most pertinent environmental initiatives. In her speech on June 22, Clinton urged nations to develop partnerships with private-sector industries, announced various U.S. initiatives to fund sustainable projects in developing nations as well as Brazil, and addressed promotion of women’s rights as integral aspects of sustainable development. Importantly for U.S.-Brazil relations, the speech also elucidated the nations’ joint commitments to urban sustainability projects and forest conservation.
Despite the U.S.’s assurance that their efforts will curb deforestation, the status of the Forest Code bill remains contentious in Brazil. The original Forest Code which dates back to 1965 is admittedly a very controversial document; it both sets protections on the forest while giving agribusiness sectors access to logging in order to farm. As a result, Brazil faced the blame for erosion of the world’s rainforest in some of its most vulnerable regions, including riverbanks and areas of incredible biodiversity. It was precisely these incidences which prompted the most recent revision of the forest code in 2012. Although President Dilma Rousseff vetoed parts of the proposed bill, many environmental activists still argue that the bill needs to be vetoed in its entirety.
The twelve most controversial sections, including a decree that would give amnesty to illegal deforestation prior to 2008, were amongst those sections vetoed. Ruralistas, farmers who grow on cleared land in the Amazon, argue that they need to Forest Code to maintain an income and support Brazil’s booming agribusiness sector. Various economists also suggest that keeping the bill will be necessary in order to avoid a harsh rise in food prices and economic turmoil. Other environmental activists contend that enough arid land already exists, and that Brazil could gain fiscal benefits from the international carbon market through forest preservation, especially considering the fact the rainforest absorbs some 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.
The government now has until September 25, 2012 to revise the forest code. Nevertheless, this debate remains entrenched in whether or not President Rousseff’s congressional support will be erased in the event she does ultimately veto the Forest Code. While she currently enjoys popular support for keeping Brazilian unemployment at a historic low, her efforts to promote social equality could be tested by the fact that ruralistas and the entire Brazilian agribusiness sector will be directly affected by a veto.
Even in the event the Forest Code is ultimately vetoed, Brazil faces another indirect factor. If the U.S.’s economic position changes, increased deforestation may occur due to renewed demand for commodities from the Amazon. Indeed, while the U.S. has recently experienced a weakened demand for corn and ethanol fuel from Brazil, Obama has been increasingly eyeing Brazil’s oil resources whilst Brazil cannot yet confirm its ability to supply the amount of oil the U.S. would need.