Brazil's Lula Grants Amnesty to Deforesting Farmers

lula da silva photo
Photo via Momento24

Brazil's pragmatic president Lula, with his bold pronouncement that his country would reduce its CO2 emissions by 36.1% to 38.9% by 2020, secured himself as a prime protagonist amongst leaders at COP15. In his signature manner, he has generally shied away from the careful political-speak adopted by many of his head-of-state contemporaries when discussing climate change solutions, striking an earnest tone on the issue which has made him popular among environmentalists. He has spoken in defense of his nation's Amazon rainforest and seems to understand its important function in the global ecosystem, taking steps to swiftly end the deforestation that so gravely threatens it. Lula seems to get it.

Why then did this protagonist of Copenhagen offer amnesty to those breaking the law?"We think this is a Christmas gift that Lula has given to the farming bloc in Congress and to illegality in Brazil," said Marcio Astrini, an Amazon campaigner for Greenpeace.

The deadline for farmers to comply with the law, set last year, was suppose to be on Friday. Had the fines been enforced, it is estimated they would have totaled $5.7 billion due to the staggeringly high number of farmers operating illegally.

"Ninety percent of farmers have been operating illegally for 44 years, since the forest laws were created," said Brazilian Environment Minister Carlos Minc.

Under current law, landowners in the Amazon region are required to enter into a contract with the government, whereby agreeing to terms limiting their development of the land. The regulation allowed for only 20 percent of a farmer's land to be cleared--the landowners were to face a fine if they exceeded that usage or failed to replant trees had they cleared over the limit before.

The rational for the amnesty, according to Minc:

We have a situation where some people have been operating in an illegal way for 40 years, but were expected to be in conformity with the laws within a year. In practice, that was impossible.

While some may be discouraged by Lula's decision to delay enforcement of this law that requires sensible responsibility on the part of farmers, they can hardly be dissuaded from their optimism in his efforts and stated commitments; Last month it was announced that deforestation in the Amazon had dropped 46 percent from August 2008 to July 2009. With any luck that rate will continue to decline until perhaps in 2012, when the fines are actually imposed, there will not be a clearcutting farmer to collect it from.

More on the Amazon Rainforest
Is the Amazon Rainforest Worth an $18 Billion Bailout?
Eating Brazil Nuts Protects the Amazon Rainforest - Literally
In Amazon, Protecting Rainforest by Policy or Force
Cattle Pastures in Deforested Amazon Now the Size of Iceland

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