The Brazilian Forest Code, and Ruralistas, and Reforms! Oh my!

Buckle up Folks : This is a long post, but definitely worth a read.

Remember how yesterday we promised we tell you more about the Brazilian Forest Code and why there were proposals to change it? Well here it is….

Brazil’s Forest Code   aka : Código Florestal

Brazil’s Forest Code (Código Florestal) was first drafted in 1934 and amended into its more recent form in 1965; it is a very large and complicated piece of legistlation which very simply is : a range of rules relating to forests and land use. It tells farmers what they can and can’t do with their land, what they need to preserve forever, and what they need to keep covered by forests/trees but can be used in a ‘sustainable’ way. The objective is to protect the forests, but at the same time, allow for agricultural production.

The Code became even more useful in 1988, when the new Brazilian Constitution gave force to federal and state environmental agencies, by allowing them to regulate and enforce these laws more effectively. This brings us to 2010, where the Forest Code is considered to be one of the world’s most progressive forest policies. Can we credit it with protecting the rainforest, and the massive drop in Brazilian deforestation rates from a ten-year high of 2.7 million hectares in 2004, to 0.70 million hectares by 2009? Well not exactly – there are a whole range of factors like commodity prices reducing the incentives to deforest and developing  improved methods of  forest monitoring. But the bottom line is, without the Forest Code, deforestation would be going on, consequence free!

Why change a good thing?

However, for several years, there has been a push to change the Code, because many have said that in order to increase crop production more land is needed, and therefore more trees will have to be cut down. The bloc of Brazilian legislatures, more commonly known as the Ruralistas, argue that if they cannot produce more crops to meet the demand, they will not be able to compete with other countries globally AND feed their own people.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, argue that by cutting these forests down, you are not only destroying the environment, but when these trees are cut, this releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the air which then causes extreme climate patterns and has other very harmful effects on the environment. One study conducted at the University of Sao Paulo says the current Code, still permits landowners to cut down another 104 million hectares  (enough land to double crop production) and yet still expand the country’s large cattle pastures by 20%.  Others argue that agricultural intensification would allow for significant increases in food production without chopping a single tree down. These estimates and figures, while they cannot be proven to the last decimal point, should be recognized for what they are: potential solutions which allow Brazil to increase its production while at the same time ensuring more land is not unnecessarily deforested.

So the debate around this reform is not so much a question of right versus wrong, because farming and forests are equally important to Brazil. Instead we need to look at how to balance these two interests. However, environmentalists argue that the Code already did this, and that this new “relaxation” of rules is tilting the balance all the way to the side of the farmers; and if this reform passes, it will then allow for shocking levels of deforestation and environmental harm to take place.

Let’s take a look at a few of these 11 changes and their effects:

  • The new amendment will pardon individuals guilty of illegal logging on 40+ million hectares of savannah and forested areas in the Amazon region which happened prior to 1996.  This would effectively pardon 14.6 billion tons of illegally emitted carbon dioxide – all of which should arguably be punished.
  • There are a lot of areas of forest in Brazil which are in “legal reserves”, which means they cannot be touched. However, in this amendment, this requirement is not as strong. This means around 70 million hectares of land would no longer be protected.  (This is about the size of Texas!) Consider that up until 2010, a total of 73 million hectares have been lost in Brazilian forests!
  • As a result of this forest loss, about 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide could be released into the atmosphere. (This is 15 times the amount of carbon dioxide China emits in 1 year!)

“Now what?” you might be asking. I know all of this information about the Forest Code, but what do I do with it? Well for starters, you are definitely going to want to  stay tuned. With the Brazilian elections happening THIS WEEKEND, whoever wins will definitely have a say as to whether these dramatic reforms to Brazil’s Forest Code will pass!


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