In Brazil, attorneys and scientists join calls for President Dilma Rousseff to veto Forest Code

Update (May 14): President Dilma Rousseff has until Friday, May 25 to either sign the bill or veto some or all of it.

Leading environmental law experts this week issued a paper detailing why President Dilma Rousseff should veto the law (1876/99) passed by Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies last week that would replace the country’s core forest protection legislation, the Forest Code. (View English translation of the paper.) The attorneys’ paper follows a late-April statement from some of Brazil’s top scientific organizations also repudiating the legislation.

A protester in Brazil marches with a sign calling for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to "veta," or veto, the Forest Code legislation. The legislation could reverse the major gains Brazil has made in reducing deforestation in the Amazon by opening up hundreds of millions of acres of forests to deforestation. Photo thanks and credit to Flickr user Stefanny Silva.

With the Rio+20 environment and development conference, hosted by Brazil, only weeks away, many in Brazilian government are concerned that weakening the Forest Code would draw international criticism.

In recent years, Brazil has made major gains in reducing Amazon deforestation, but the new law could reverse the trend.

The revised Forest Code, passed with support of the large ranchers and farmers’ caucus of the Congress (or ruralistas), would exempt farmers from penalties for illegal deforestation before 2008.

The legislation would also open up hundreds of millions of acres of currently protected forest to deforestation, including more than 98 million acres of critical wetlands, according to Brazil’s National Space Research Agency. President Rousseff has maintained since last year’s electoral campaign that she would not sign a law that gave amnesty for illegal deforestation.

The paper’s authors call for President Rousseff to veto the entire bill passed in the Chamber, rather than vetoing parts of it (she can choose to do either). Partial vetoes would introduce ambiguities and lacunae into the law and could make it unenforceable. For example, the Chamber bill changes the way that required forest buffers along streams and rivers are measured, allowing tens of millions of acres of new forest to be legally cleared. Vetoing this paragraph would leave undefined the key question of how riparian forest buffers are measured.

The new paper follows a statement by a working group of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC) and the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC), the country’s two principal scientific organizations, repudiating the bill passed by the Chamber. The scientists argue that special interests pushed through changes detrimental to the national interest and will not provide a basis for environmentally sustainable growth of the agriculture sector.

President Rousseff should respect the wishes of the vast majority of the Brazilian public that wants an end to Amazon deforestation and veto this dangerous law in its entirety.

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