“What face are you going to turn up to Rio+20 with, Dilma?” – Environmental campaigners on Three Powers Square (Praça dos Três Poderes) outside the Palácio do Planalto, the government’s Lower House, in Brasília. Photo: Valter Campanato/Agência Brasil)
Last week Brazil’s President Rousseff part-vetoed the controversial Código Florestral (Forest Code) which is aimed at regulating the amount of land farmers in the Amazon region, in Brazil’s north, must keep as forest.
Dilma vetoed 12 articles and made 32 other modifications to the bill – most importantly rejecting the amnesty on illegal logging and blocking the section on allowing agriculture closer to riverbanks within forests.
The government were fairly realistic with their decision-making – and, as usual, tried to appease all sides, admitting that the sensitive Amazon region needed to be used for the good of the people, and that small-scale farmers needed to be supported and not squeezed out of business, but at the same time they had to show they were aware of environmentalists’ concerns, globally calls indeed, over the future of the Amazon.
These concerns have not been alleviated: the WWF, Avaaz, AmazonWatch and an array of other environmental organisations have continued to voice their concern over the plight of the Amazon – one of the areas in the world with the highest biodiversity.
They say the legislation fell well short even of their limited expectations – and actually reduces the rainforest’s protection in its new form.
Everything Dilma vetoed and amended must now go back to the Senate to be reviewed and re-voted on before they can become law, and a provisional law in now in place to plug the holes created by the president’s amendments.
The farmers, although not thrilled by the resultant bill, have said it was not as bad as expected, calling the changes “palatable”. But they stress that restrictions in the approved bill will stop the chance for them to use the land more productively, primarily for raising livestock and growing crops.
The environmental protesters camped outside the Palácio do Planalto – the seat of the government in Brasília – are unlikely to up sticks and leave after this decision. The fight just continues.
Some reports have suggested deforestation in the Amazon is slowing, but environment campaigners are not convinced and have not been appeased by the Forestry Code in its post-Dilma guise. They say the new legislation is worse for the rainforest.
The WWF in Brazil said that “Brazilians and the whole world have watched a country continuing to play with the future of its forests, and that the legislative was instead “designed to meet the needs of only the section of society that wants to increase the potential for deforestation and grant amnesties to those who deforest illegally”.
The high-profile campaign has enjoyed a lot of support from Brazilian celebrities, and social networks have been jammed with “Veto it, Dilma!” ads.
Many believe the President has taken a “safe option” – attempting to placate all sides, at least to some extent, and postponing the tough decision until a later date – and perhaps just in the nick of time, they might think.
Why? Because Rio+20, the UN’s biggest-ever conference on sustainable development, starts in a few weeks’ time – and the last thing the government wants is a load of protesters banging on about the rainforest while they discuss the environment.
They may be in for a shock.