Just weeks ahead of hosting a world forum on sustainable development, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff partially vetoed a controversial forest bill that would loosen environmental responsibility in the Amazon. The bill will now be returned to legislators in a move that local and global environmental groups are greeting with a cold to lukewarm response.
"For the last decade, Brazil has been on a path of economic and environmental progress. President Rousseff’s statement … creates an uncertain future for Brazilian forests, considering the Congress could still cut forest protections even further," said Jim Leape, WWF International director general in a statement.
This Forest Code, was passed in December 2011 by the agribusiness-dominated Senate. To go into force, the law needs the president’s consent. Now that Rousseff has vetoed 12 of the bill’s 84 articles, passage is on hold until those 12 points are amended and returned to the president.
Nothing will move ahead now until after Brazil hosts the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, at the end of June.
"President Rousseff's unfortunate decision will make it difficult for her to speak credibly about sustainable development when heads of state gather in Rio next month," reads the WWF statement.
"President Dilma's vague delivery of vetoes and modifications to new Forest Code leaves the people of Brazil without any assurances that the Amazon will be protected. One thing is clear Dilma has ignored the 80 percent of Brazilians who opposed to the changes to the current Forest Code and demanded a full veto, " added Paulo Adario, of Greenpeace.
Among the dozen clauses vetoed by Rousseff was a blanket amnesty for landowners who illegally cleared forest before July 2008. With the exception of some smallholders representing about a quarter of rural properties (determined on a municipality by municipality basis, depending on several factors), landowners will be required to restore deforested areas up to levels specified by the law, including along waterways. The version of the legislation passed by the House only required a ten meter wide zone of forest along rivers, but Rousseff extended the area to up to 100 meters for large rivers on properties owned by large producers, with more limited protected areas along smaller rivers and for smaller properties. Forests on hilltops and steep slopes must also be protected (deforestation on slopes and mountaintops over 1,800 meters in elevation before 2008 is exempted). Failure to meet Forest Code obligations will result in fines and loss of access to subsidized agricultural loans.