Brazil is about to enact broad new regulations that opponents say could loosen restrictions on Amazon deforestation and increase the country's greenhouse gas emissions. The Amazon is the world's largest rain forest. The move comes after two years of debates and dozens of hearings across the country over how to update a 1965 law that was designed to control slash-and-burn agriculture.
Backers say the proposed Forest Code bill, which is expected to be signed into law early next year, would protect the Amazon while easing the regulatory burden on small farmers. Proponents say it is an improvement over the 1965 law, which requires landholders in the Amazon to have a forest cover over 80% of their land. Critics say the law has myriad rules that are hard to understand and routinely ignored.
"It sends a mixed message because Brazil has positioned itself as a country that’s committed itself to saving the forest cover to the benefit of the world," said Christian Poirier, Brazil program director for Amazon Watch. "The new forest code flouts all that."
Under a Brazilian Senate proposal approved earlier this month, farmers would still have to set aside the same amount of their land for forest. But various loopholes, environmentalists warn, would permit farmers in some states to reduce the amount of land covered by trees.
The code would do away with restrictions on the clearing of trees from riverbanks and hillsides, by measuring buffer regions based on river flows during the dry season rather than the rainy season, while shielding farmers in the Amazon with up to 1,087 acres of land from fines and other legal penalties for having deforested before July 2008.
Farmers also would be able to reforest as much as 50% of illegally denuded areas with exotic species, rather than native trees, and the overhaul would require farmers to restore only about half of the 212,000 square miles they would have been required to restore under the current law.