photo via flickr
While Brazil's soccer team is making all of the headlines, there is more serious news affecting the country than the plight of Kaka. The Amazon rainforest is under immediate threat due to proposed changes to environment legislation called the Brazilian Forest Code. If the changes are accepted, deforestation could be set to double. If the proposed new code comes in, estimates say that:
--Approximately 85 million hectares of the Amazon could be destroyed. This is an area equivalent to the size of England and France together and is more than the total that has been destroyed until now (73 million ha).
--At least 30 billion tons of CO2 could be released into the atmosphere - that is 7 times more than the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions Brazil committed to cut in Copenhagen and 15 times more GHG than China emits in a year.
--All the achievements made by President Lula to protect the Amazon and to reduce Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions (by 38.9% by 2020) will be lost unless he prevents these changes to the Forest Code and defends his legacy.
What is the Forest Code?
The Brazilian Forest Code is the progressive environment legislation that helps protect the Brazilian Amazon (and all other native Brazilian forests) and is a cornerstone to Brazil's efforts to protect biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
For the last 12 years, NGOs have been fighting to protect this legislation but representatives of agribusiness, biofuels and energy sectors - as well as members of Congress that predominantly represent the rural sector - are pushing for dramatic changes to the Code. The proposed new Forest Code would reduce or even eliminate forest protection and allow deforestation across the board.
Currently, farms and settlements have to conserve 80% of the forest on their land (so-called 'Legal Reserves'), and use it for sustainable timber management - they cannot destroy it. Under the proposed new Forest Code, this could be reduced to 50% in large areas, and as far as 0% in small areas (up to 400 hectares). If all of these areas are deforested, they would release at least 30 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere - that is 7 times more than the emissions Brazil committed to cut in Copenhagen.
Under the new Code. an amnesty would be given to anyone who committed forest crimes up to July 22, 2008. The new Code's proponents claim that this will promote economic development and ensure that Brazil, the world's second large crop producer and first large beef exporter, will be able "to feed the world."
This is fast becoming a hot political issue, since 2010 is election year in Brazil. As the October national elections approach, candidates are promoting their policies now and aligning themselves. Proposed radical changes to the Brazilian Forest Code are central to this debate.
Congress is due to vote on this next week, maybe as early as Tuesday.