"Draft Amendment to Brazil's Forest Law is a carbon bomb"

20 junho 2011    
Vista aérea de área desmatada no Parque Nacional Juruena. A cobertura florestal está sendo substituída por pastos.
Vista aérea de área desmatada no Parque Nacional Juruena. A cobertura florestal está sendo substituída por pastos.
© Zig Koch / WWF
Draft Forest Law reform bill being reviewed at the Senate brings terrible news to farmers, Brazil and the rest of the world: new defforestation affecting millions of hectares, release of carbon stocks, and maintenance of backward and unfair production systems. These findings are contained in a study released by the Applied Economic Research Insistute (Ipea), a Federal Government organization.

Ipea ascertained the area with native vegetation that will no longer be rehabilitated in case the amnesty to crimes related to defforestation of legal reserve tracts in properties of up to four tax modules is maintained. And it also developed other scenarios, considering further defforestation as a result of this amnesty.

According to the Forest Law currently in force, a Legal Reserve is the portion of a property where the natural vegetation must be kept. The Legal Reserve must cover 80% of the land in properties in the Amazon Forest, 35% in Cerrado spots in the Amazon and 20% in the country’s remaining regions.

A tax module is the minimum area that a farmer needs to conduct an economic activity that will support himself and his family. The size of a tax module varies from municipality to municipality, and is based on the prevalent economic activities in the region, among other factors. The tax module varies from five hectares in the Federal District to 110 hectares in the Amazon.

The bill being considered by the National Congress provides for forgiveness of illegally defforestation. The draft bill establishes that farmers who own up to four taxing modules (up to 440 hectares in the Amazon) and cleared beyond the area required by law up to 2008 are released from rehabilitating the native vegetation in the legal reserves.

The experts came to the conclusion that – assuming that there would be no further defforestation in legal reserves, under an optimistic scenario – at least 29 million hectares of native forest would fail to be rehabilitated. This area is equivalent to the territory of Italy. Under a different scenario, assuming that there would be defforestation in the future in those farms that are not required to maintain a legal reserve, the total defforested area could come to 47 million hectares, i.e., the territory of Spain. Approximatley 60% of the area for which the rehabilitation requirement would be dropped lies in the Amazon.

In the other biomes, large defforested areas would fail to be recovered. In the Caatinga and Atlantic Forest, half of everything that was cleared illegally in legal reserves would not need to be rehabilitated. In the Pampas region, this would be 30%; for the Cerrado, this figure would be 22%; in the Amazon, 14%; and in the Pantanal Wetlands this would be 3%.

For a third scenario, where the legal reserves for the four modules in medium- and large sized properties would also be cleared, the devastation would affect 79 million hectares, which is an area larger than Chile.

Greenhouse gases

The proposed reform of the Forest Law also jeopardizes Brazil’s greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. If the legal reserve areas that should be in place are not rehabilitated according to the legislation currently in force and in anticipation of further deforestation encouraged by the amnesties, as many as 17-28 times the amount required to cover Brazil’s goal of greenhouse gas emission reductions would fail to be captured.

“The proposed bill being reviewed by the National Congress is a true carbon bomb,” says WWF Brazil’s Coordinator for the Climate Change Programme Carlos Rittl. “This is a huge threat to biodiversity in Brazil, forests and the global climate,” says the expert.

Brazil has committed to reduce the growth curve of its greenhouse gas emissions by 36.1 38.9% by 2020. The commitment was established under Law 12187/2009, which created the National Policy on Climate Change, and this commitment has also been reported to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

As the amnesty provides to loggers works as an incentive to new destruction, and because the majority of Brazil's emissions comes from deforestation and changes in land use, Brazil's targets are unlikely to be met. “Changes in the Forest Law make it virtually impossible for Brazil to achieve its targets for reducing emissions,” says Mr Rittl.

The bill under discussion also puts at risk another international commitment undertaken by Brazil, i.e., reducing deforestation by 80% in the Amazon and by 40% in Cerrado by 2020, based on the average figure for 1996 2005.

“The Rio +20 conference to be held in 2012 will discuss paths to global sustainable development. In approving changes to the Forest Law, the House of Representatives acted against the tide of history. This also put the host of this global summit – Brazil – at risk of setting a bad example to the world by approving an amnesty for crimes against the environment and giving leeway to outright deforestation,” says the environmentalist.

WWF-Brazil CEO Denise Hamu reckons that the Senate now has the opportunity to change this state of affairs. “The Senate should finally bring research institutions into the discussion, including SBPC, ABC, Embrapa, IPEA, family farmers, the civil society – these are all extremely concerned about the amendments approved by the House of Representatives –, so that the Forest Law can be improved instead of destroyed”.

According to Mr Rittl, Brazil should put its development back on track: “Sustainability and low carbon economic growth are an unavoidable path to be followed in our era. This should be regarded as an opportunity for a country like Brazil – which is endowed with so many natural resources – and for the various economic sectors. People, institutions, businesses, and governments who fail to realize this risk missing the train of history,” he says.

Click here to download the Ipea study (PDF, Portuguese version only)
Vista aérea de área desmatada no Parque Nacional Juruena. A cobertura florestal está sendo substituída por pastos.
Vista aérea de área desmatada no Parque Nacional Juruena. A cobertura florestal está sendo substituída por pastos.
© Zig Koch / WWF Enlarge