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Just a few weeks before hosting the UN Sustainable Development Conference, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff vetoed 12 of 84 points and made 32 modifications to the controversial “Código Florestal” or “Forest Code” on 31 May 2012. The bill has now been sent back to the Brazilian Congress to be re-approved there. Rousseff also promises to pass several executive orders to help maintain the balance between the environmental and agricultural sides of the bill.
Some of Rousseff’s vetoes include giving amnesty to landowners who illegally cleared forests before 2008. These landowners must restore these areas but there is no part of the bill that requires them to use native plants, meaning that landowners can introduce exotic plants or cash crops instead. Rousseff also denied allowing large landowners to ignore illegal deforestation on their lands from other parties; these landowners must stop the deforestation and restore the forest.
Another essential veto for Rousseff was stopping deforestation near riverbanks and hillsides, which are delicate environmental areas and allow for erosion of the soil. Rousseff also extended the forest buffer zone for rivers from ten meters to one hundred meters.
The bill, which gives many allowances to landowners and farmers, has many environmentalists worried that the progress Brazil has been making at restoring and protecting the Amazon rainforest will be lost if the bill is passed at all. The activist group Avaaz sent in a petition to President Rousseff with almost two million signatures from around the world asking for a total veto of the bill.
However, if Rousseff had vetoed the bill outright the Congress could have overruled her veto and the bill would have passed with the most environmentally detrimental aspects still in it. Since the bill passed fifty-nine to seven in the Senate this overturning of a full veto would not be difficult.
Agriculture groups claim that uncertainty over legislation has undermined investment in the agricultural sector which accounts for 5% of Brazil’s GDP. President of Brazil’s National Agriculture and Livestock Association (CNA) stated after the passage of the bill in the senate, “this is the first time we’re ending the monopoly, that we’re ending the environmental dictatorship where half a dozen [non-governmental organizations] controlled the environment ministry.”
Rousseff made several campaign promises to both environmental protection and economic development; this bill is the first major bill that has brought these two concepts into opposition. However the ministers of environment, agriculture, and development agree that Rousseff has managed to strike a good balance between preservation and sustainable development
Sixty percent of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil and twenty percent of the Brazilian rainforest has already been destroyed. In order to slow deforestation, Rousseff created an environmental police in 2008 to monitor deforestation through satellite imaging. These 1,400 rangers police an area the size of the US west of the Mississippi.
The Amazons are considered the lungs of the earth and clean out tens of billions of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It possess ten percent of the world’s biodiversity and has many plants and insects with the medicinal potential. Scientists claim that less than half of one percent of the flowering plants in the rainforest has been studied for their medicinal purposes, and with the rainforest shrinking many of these species that may possess cures are being lost. With the recent drought in the Amazon scientists are beginning to worry that deforestation and climate change will begin to turn the Amazon into a savannah.