Brazil's Senate passes forest code

December 7, 2011


Jennifer Andreassen, 202-572-3387,

(December 7, 2011) Brazil’s Senate voted  58 to 8 for a new law revising the 1965 Forest Code, which regulates forest  land use on private property nationally. 

“This vote is a step backward for the environment and threatens the Amazon and Brazil’s environmental leadership,”  said Environmental Defense Fund International Climate Director Jennifer Haverkamp, “even though it is an improvement on the bill passed by the lower house this summer.”

The Senate bill would amnesty most illegal deforestation before July 2008, while continuing to require some forest restoration on riverbanks, hilltops and steep slopes on landholdings over about 400 hectares.  The bill’s rapporteur, Senator Jorge Viana (Workers’ Party – Acre) argues that the law would require restoration of some of the areas illegally cleared in the past – but the government rejected environmentalists’ proposals for positive incentives for farmers who complied with the old law and for forest restoration.   Existing requirements to maintain part of private lands in forest and to keep forest buffers along riverbanks, continue, but the total area subject to protection is greatly reduced.  A last minute attempt by northeastern states to exempt mangroves from any environmental protection to allow unlimited expansion of shrimp farming ended by legalizing existing illegal shrimp farms. Up to 10% of northeastern states’ environmentally critical coastal mangrove forests can now be converted to shrimp farms.

If the Senate bill becomes law it would require all private landowners to register their properties in the Rural Environmental Cadaster, by furnishing environmental agencies with satellite maps and geographical coordinates of their properties, showing whether they are in compliance with the law, and a long-term plan to bring properties into compliance where they are not.  

Satellite data on 2011 Amazon deforestation released by Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) showed a total of 6,238 km2 , the lowest on record since 1988, and 11% less than 2010.  The effects of a new Forest Code on Brazil’s national emissions reduction target, announced by President Lula in Copenhagen, turns on farmers’ expectations and government’s reaction to them.  Brazil’s success in reducing Amazon deforestation by about 70% below historic averages since 2004 resulted from creating an area the size of France in new protected areas and ramping up law enforcement.  

“Brazil’s spectacular growth and booming agriculture sector clearly show that environmental regulation has not hurt its economy,” said EDF director for Tropical Forest Policy Steve Schwartzman. “If Brazil wants to do what everyone agrees is necessary – stop deforestation – government will need to create robust incentives for forest conservation and restoration and close the loopholes in the law.” 

The bill will now go to the lower house of the Congress.  After the lower house vote, President Rousseff will have thirty days to approve or veto the bill, or veto selected parts.