Brazil congress passes legislation easing forest conservation laws

[JURIST] The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies [official website] Wednesday passed amendments to the country's Forest Code, which requires landowners to conserve certain percentages of total acreage as forested terrain. Passed 247-184 over strong opposition, the controversial legislation eases conservation rules [BBC report] for farmers and provides amnesty from fines for illegally clearing trees. Farmers and other supporters of the bill contend that the changes will encourage greater investment in the agriculture industry, which accounts for approximately 5.8 percent of Brazil's GDP [CIA World Factbook materials]. Currently the law requires conservation of 20 percent of forested land in some areas, ranging up to 80 percent in the Amazon. While the new bill does not necessarily affect such requirements, certain Amazon landowners could reduce their coverage to 50 percent, and environmentalists contend that other changes will lead to greater deforestation and destruction of the Amazon, such as allowing farmers to cultivate land closer to hilltops and riverbanks, which are especially vulnerable to erosion when trees are removed. Opponents such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) [advocacy website; press release] argue that millions of acres of illegally cleared land will be legalized through amnesty, USD $4.8 million in fines will be forfeited, Brazil's economy will suffer from a damaged global reputation, standing obligations to restore illegally-cleared areas will be voided and floodplains and other sensitive areas will be opened to cattle ranching and farming. They further contend that the bill complicates the Forest Code such that it would become "nearly impossible to implement and enforce." The bill now goes to President Dilma Rousseff [BBC profile], who has 15 days to sign or veto the law.

The Federal Senate [official website] in December voted 59-7 to pass the amendments [JURIST report] to the Forest Code. In February Jayme Mello, a Senior Attorney at Nogueira, Elias, Lakowski and Matias [corporate website], wrote that the new amendments are a threat to the Brazilian environment and should be declared unconstitutional [JURIST comment]. Mello predicts the Supreme Court of Brazil will likely address the code's constitutionality regarding two issues, the "social function of property" clause introduced into the Brazilian Constitution in 1988 and the "common use" nature of Brazilian swampland that precludes it from becoming private property subject to amnesty provisions. Mello further notes that there is no Brazilian Supreme Court precedent on either matter, making predictions regarding the outcome of a relevant lawsuit nearly impossible. The UN Security Council [official website] in July made its first official statement [JURIST report] that the climate change is most likely to pose a serious threat to world peace and security.

 

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