Nov 25

Proposed new laws could threaten Brazil’s rich biodiversity, potentially placing an area of forest equal to the sizes of Germany, Italy and Austria combined at high risk of destruction.

Brazil-nut tree image

New laws could lead to the destruction of vast areas of Brazil’s forests

Suggested changes in land clearance laws

Brazil’s senate is soon set to vote on new laws on land clearance, the approval of which could lead to the destruction of a substantial area of the country’s forested region.

Since 2004, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has declined steadily, with tougher regulation enforcement and improved satellite monitoring both being contributing factors. Between August 2009 and July 2010, forest clearance fell to the lowest level on record, but this year there have already been signs of an increase in deforestation in several areas of the country.

Environmental groups fear that changes in legislation could exacerbate the problem, by opening up vast areas of the world’s biggest rainforest to clearance for uses such as cattle ranching and soy production, as well as preventing the chance of replanting within many illegally deforested areas.

WWF has said that studies show that the proposed changes to Brazil’s Forest Code could lead to the destruction or lack of restoration of 175 million acres of forest, equivalent to the combined area of Germany, Italy and Austria.

Blue-chested parakeet image

The blue-chested parakeet was once common in south-east Brazil, but it is now restricted to isolated reserves

Implications for Rio+20

Brazil has made a commitment to reduce deforestation by 80% by the year 2020, but implementation of the new laws could hinder the country’s ability to reach this target, as well as its efforts to position itself as a global environmental leader prior to hosting the UN Conference on Sustainable Development – known as Rio+20 – in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012.

The Forest Code, which dates back to 1965 and applies to nearly 5.2 million farmers and rural land owners in Brazil, requires that a certain proportion of owned land, varying between 20 and 80%, is left as untouched forest. However, 90% of landowners are believed to fall short of full compliance with the regulations.

The proposed new laws, which were passed in May by Brazil’s lower house, would grant a reprieve from heavy fines to landowners who illegally cleared forest between 1965 and July 2008, and would also include relaxation of the rules surrounding the clearing of hills.

Lowland tapir image

The Vulnerable lowland tapir relies upon rainforest habitats for its survival

Forests and agriculture

Scientists and conservationists have argued that the changes to the Forest Code would not provide sufficient protection for forests and the biodiversity within them. However, agriculture has played an important role in Brazil’s economic rise, with the country now being the world’s leading producer and exporter of coffee and sugar cane. Senator Katia Abreu, president of the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock, has stated that Brazilian farmers could lose up to $100 billion should the new laws not be passed.

The bill will be voted on by Brazil’s Senate at the end of November, and final approval falls with President Dilma Rousseff, whose election campaign involved a pledge to veto any legislation which might lead to an increase in deforestation.

Read more on this story at The Telegraph – Brazil ‘risks loss of forest area equal to Germany, Italy and Austria’.

Explore photos and videos of species found in Brazil on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author