A committee of Brazil’s Congress has approved proposals to roll back protections on 1.1 million hectares of forest and national park.
Lawmakers with links to mining and agriculture interests amended two government bills to open up even more land for exploitation, in a move that environmentalists say jeopardises the country’s climate change goals.
It amounts to “a licence to clear-cut”, warned Roberto Cabral, head of the government’s environmental protection agency’s elite deforestation-fighting unit.
“When you have a protected area, people may invade it to hunt and steal from it, but they will never clear-cut it because they know they won’t get property rights. When you trim down one of those areas, you are signalling to people on the ground that none of them is untouchable anymore.”
Two pieces of legislation target sections of Jamanxim National Forest, the Serra do Cachimbo Ecological Station, São Joaquim National Park, Jamanxim National Park, neighbouring the National Forest and Trairão II National Forest. They need to pass a plenary vote in Congress before being adopted.
Environment minister José Sarney Filho put forward the plan to trim Jamanxim National Forest as an amnesty on squatters already occupying the space. The government could not afford to pay the compensation that would be needed to evict them, he argued.
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The other act started as a request for 862 hectares in the Jamanxim National Park for a railway, to be more than offset by 51,000 hectares of extra protected land.
Both were altered in Congress beyond recognition, to the point Sarney Filho said he would ask for a presidential veto if they get full parliamentary approval.
Environmentalists said the weakening of protections would open the door to more deforestation.
“You can’t simply open Pandora’s box and pretend you can take a few coins and put it back again,” said Ciro Campos from Instituto Socioambiental, a Brazilian NGO.
Amazon deforestation has increased almost 60% over the last two years, in the teeth of Brazil’s worst recession on record. The rise follows years of progress in curbing illegal logging and land clearance.
Loss of the country’s unique and carbon-rich rainforest is a major driver of its greenhouse gas emissions. In its pledge toward the Paris climate deal, Brazil promised to cut emissions 37% by 2025 from 2005 levels and end illegal deforestation.
The Climate Observatory, a network of 42 organisations, sent a letter urging president Michel Temer to veto the proposed rollback of protections.
“After seeing huge strides on curbing deforestation, demarcating indigenous lands and creating protected areas – while keeping strong economic growth, record grain harvests and job creation – Brazil seems to turn back to the 1980s, when it was a world pariah due to the destruction of its own natural capital and to rural violence,” the letter said.