Cattle grazing on a deforested plain in Brazil. Photo: Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

By Sue Branford
1 March 2018

(Mongabay) – In what many consider Brazil’s most important ruling ever about the environment, the Supreme Court on Thursday rejected, by a tight vote of 6 to 5, some of the most important charges of “unconstitutionality” brought against the New Forest Code – the Law of Native Protection (12.651/2012).

The resulting decision revokes the more environmentally friendly Forest Code passed in 1965 under the military government then in power in Brazil, and maintains much of the New Forest Code, passed in 2012 by a Congress under the powerful influence of the bancada ruralista, Brazil’s agribusiness lobby.

The voting by the eleven ministers in the Supreme Court was staggered over several weeks. Until the eleventh minister, Celso de Mello, cast his votes yesterday, voting on some of the most important of the 23 accusations of unconstitutionality made against the New Forest Code was tied, with five votes for and five against. […]

As a result of this final ruling, the high court has now endorsed an amnesty given to landowners who had illegally cleared their so-called Legal Reserve (the part of their property that, by law, they must not clear) before July 22, 2008, and makes it unnecessary for these landowners to pay fines and to replant cleared forest.

The ruling also makes it constitutional to reduce the size of the Legal Reserve in states or municipalities largely occupied by indigenous reserves or protected areas.

In addition, the decision permits the reduction in size of Areas of Permanent Protection (APAs), even though these are considered by many environmentalists as fundamental for maintaining water supplies and preventing climate disasters like floods and mudslides. The high court’s ruling also makes it constitutional for farmers who illegally cleared APAs to get authorization to clear more land, and allows farming activities on steep slopes (over 45 degree angles) and on hilltops.

After almost ten years of declining rates of deforestation in Amazonia, forest clearing regained momentum in 2012. Though deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was reported to have dropped some 16 percent between 2016 and 2017 — the first decrease in the deforestation rate in three years — that trend is not expected to continue into 2018 given the drought conditions affecting large tracts of the Brazilian Amazon last year. Efforts to weaken environmental laws in the country led by the Temer administration and Congress are also expected to contribute to higher deforestation rates this year.

Many environmentalists and researchers believe that the change in legislation brought about by the 2012 New Forest Code is one of the reasons for the overall uptick in Brazil’s deforestation rate over the past several years. [more]

Brazil high court Forest Code ruling largely bad for environment, Amazon: NGOs

1 March 2018 (BBC News) – Brazil's supreme court has upheld major changes to laws protecting the Amazon rainforest, delivering a blow to environmentalists.

The revision of the 2012 law includes an amnesty programme that scraps penalties for landowners who have cut trees down illegally in the past.

Environmentalists say it will make illegal deforestation of the world's largest rainforest acceptable.

Farmers say the changes give producers confidence to grow the economy. […]

The revised rule will reduce the amount of land that should be restored by 112,000 sq miles (290,000 sq km) - an area the size of Italy.

It also provides an amnesty from fines owed for illegally clearing trees before July 2008, although larger landholders would have to replant most of the cleared area or preserve the same amount of land elsewhere.

Environmentalists say the revised laws will reward those who have deforested in the past.

Speaking to Reuters, Nurit Bensusan from the non-governmental organisation Instituto Socioambiental said: "With this amnesty you create a climate that invites deforestation in the future. It creates the impression that if you deforest today, tomorrow, you are handed an amnesty."

Under the new bill, farmers will be able to cultivate land closer to hilltops and riverbanks, which are especially vulnerable to erosion if trees are chopped down. [more]

Brazil's top court approves controversial forestry law



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