Climate Action

The Brazilian Forest Code, Three Years Later

Three years ago the New Brazilian Forest Code was put into effect. The development of the new code in 2012 was marked with conflicts between farmers and environmentalists. Farmers pushed for an update of the previous code, created during the military government in 1965, which would allow them to harvest their land with less restriction from environmental laws. During the elaboration of the new code, environmentalists and civil society groups reacted trying to reduce the proposed changes without success. The code, published in May 2012 – law 12.651/2012, decentralized the management of Brazilian forests, delegating the mapping and registering of all rural properties to the states. It mainly served agribusiness interests with measures like extending amnesties to illegal deforestation carried prior to 2008 and reducing areas that should be permanently maintained as forest (Legal Reserves) and areas where clearing vegetation was prohibited (Area of Permanent Protection), such as on steep slopes and the margins of rivers and streams. However, after three years there have still been challenges implementing the conservation aspect of the code. The deadline for mapping and registering all Brazilian rural properties by May 2015 through the Rural Environmental Registration (Cadastro Ambiental Rural – CAR) had to be extended to 2016 since so far only 1.4 million of a 5.5 million total properties have been registered; 87% of which are small properties. Farmers are hesitant and unwilling to register their lands in fear that they will be forced to stop harvesting and grazing on their lands. Another issue with the implementation is the lack of clarity in regulations about the next stage after registering the property. The Program of Environmental Regulation (Programa de Regularização Ambiental – PRA) doesn’t give proper guidelines for legal, administrative and economic processes to rehabilitate forests in many properties and have them in compliance with national environmental laws. The forest code, capable of protecting springs, rivers, and the country’s high biodiversity, can also help to prevent hydric crisis’  that cause droughts and low water volume in lakes and rivers due to deforestation.  The Rural Environmental Registration is also essential for a reliable mapping of rural areas; providing locations of natural vegetation that need to be preserved and identifying abandoned land that is suitable for plantations and pastures. It is essential that all farmers register, especially big landowners, and that states create clear regulations so the farmers can follow the necessary environmental requirements and preserve areas that are still under protection by the law. Without proper regulations and law enforcement, the recent hydric crisis that happened in Brazil will only be one of the many consequences of deforestation, and will be the end to forest rehabilitation efforts like Earth Day Network’s Canopy Project—which will no longer be enough to guarantee that Brazilian’s natural landscapes remain healthy and growing.     Maria Izabel Martinez da Matta, Intern