Brazil’s congress hands Rousseff a second forest bill defeat

Maria Luiza Rebello – Bloomgberg, 09/25/2012

Brazil’s Congress yesterday concluded voting on a decree to revamp the country’s forest code, handing President Dilma Rousseff a second defeat on her plan to limit deforestation.

The president’s decree signed May 25 required that cleared areas bordering rivers wider than 10 meters be replanted out to 20 meters on each bank. Lawmakers reduced that distance to 15 meters. On larger tracts, the protection was lowered from 30 meters to 20 meters. Lawmakers have also authorized the use of fruit trees for replanting.

“The president has repeatedly showed that the government is only committed to the original version of the decree,” Senator Eduardo Braga, leader of the government coalition in the Senate, said. “The possibility of another veto is real,” he told reporters in Brasilia.

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In the Spotlight: How will commitments to the environment affect U.S.-Brazilian relations?

Compiled by Elizabeth Sweitzer – Brazil Institute, 6/27/2012

Photo credit: Sam Beebe, Ecotrust

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.

Rio+20 seen as last chance for rainforest

Joe Leahy – Financial Times, 6/19/2012

When Greenpeace accused Brazil’s JBS, the world’s largest beef exporter, of  sourcing cattle from illegally deforested parts of the Amazon this month, the  company’s response was swift.

An angry JBS immediately filed a lawsuit against the  environmental activist group and won a court injunction last week restricting  dissemination of Greenpeace’s report.

Round one may have gone to JBS but Greenpeace’s timing could hardly have been  more strategic.

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100 Amazon birds risk extinction, group says

Mikael Bauer – Associated Press/USA Today, 06/07/2012

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – The list of Amazon bird species facing danger of extinction has risen sharply because their rainforest habitat is being slashed to make room for cattle ranching and agriculture, a conservationist group said Thursday.

BirdLife International said that globally, 1,331 types of birds, or 13 percent of the world’s 10,064 total bird species, were listed as at risk on this year’s Red List of Threatened Species issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. That’s up from the 1,253 species classified as threatened on last year’s list.

The biggest jump came in the Amazon, where 100 Amazon avian species are now on the Red List, three of them in the highest-risk, “critically endangered” category. Only 10 were listed last year. The sudden jump is due to new models of future deforestation, which predicted accelerating destruction over the coming decade.

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Brazil’s leader faces defining decision on bill relaxing protection of forests

Simon Romero – The New York Times, 05/16/2012

President Dilma Rousseff is facing one of the defining moments of her presidency as pressure builds on her to veto a bill that would open vast protected areas of forests to ranching and farming, potentially reversing Brazil’s major gains in slowing Amazon deforestation.

The Forest Code, which Congress approved in April at the urging of powerful agricultural groups, is an effort to overhaul Brazil’s 47-year-old legislation providing forest protection. The bill has emerged as a very delicate issue for Ms. Rousseff ahead of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, scheduled to be held here next month.

The bill would effectively give amnesty to landowners who illegally deforested areas before 2008, drawing the ire of environmentalists. If the legislation goes into effect, it could allow landowners in the Amazon to reduce obligatory forest cover to 50 percent from 80 percent, and could lead to the loss of as much as 190 million acres of forest, according to the government’s Institute for Applied Economic Research.

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Brazil set to cut forest protection

Jeff Tollefson – Nature, 05/01/2012

The sound of chainsaws in the Amazon rainforest has faded in recent years as deforestation has slowed, last year dropping to less than one-third of its long-term average. But last week, the lower house of Brazil’s National Congress passed a bill that observers say could drastically reduce forest protection.

An organized coalition of rural agricultural interests prevailed in vote after vote during debates, approving amendments that would, for example, scale back forest protections along rivers and hills, give state and local governments more authority over forests, and relieve landholders of the responsibility of reforesting illegally cleared land. The bill would also eliminate a requirement that landowners seeking agricultural loans from the government register their land, document any illegal clearance and submit a plan to come into compliance if they have cleared forests illegally.

Environmentalists hope that pressure from conservation groups and media attention on next month’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro will influence Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff to veto the most radical elements of the legislation.

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Brazil land law passes in defeat for Rousseff

Maria Carolina Marcello, Peter Murphy – Reuters, 04/26/2012

Brazil’s Congress passed a bill easing rules mandating the amount of forest that farmers must preserve, delivering a long-sought victory to the country’s powerful agriculture lobby and a political defeat for President Dilma Rousseff.

Though the bill will require millions of hectares of already cleared land to be replanted, environmentalists expect it will make it too easy for farmers, responsible for much of the deforestation of the Amazon and other swaths of environmentally sensitive land in recent decades, to comply with regulations that stipulate how much forest they must preserve or put back.

Rousseff still has the option of vetoing the bill, one of the most controversial to pass Brazil’s Congress in recent years. Several government sources told Reuters they expect her to do so because the approved text ditched a hard-bargained compromise deal the government took months to reach.

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