Brazil’s president Michel Temer has vetoed a bill that would have lowered protections on 1.4 million acres of land – much of it in the Amazon rainforest.
The measures would have downgraded the protections on the forests to the lowest level under Brazilian law, which would allow farming and mining activities. They had been championed by the beef industry and passed through Congress by a powerful group of politicians aligned with agricultural interests.
Only Temer’s veto could maintain the protections and on Monday night, shortly after being publicly lobbied by Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen, he said he would block the bill.
— Gisele Bündchen (@giseleofficial) June 13, 2017
However the respite for the rainforests may be short lived. On Sunday, environment minister Jose Sarney Filho said a new bill was being being developed to lower protections across 1.1m acres of forest in the state of Pará.
WWF’s Jaime Gesisky told the Associated Press that Temer’s announcement was a charade designed to preserve Temer’s image while on a trip to Norway. The Scandinavian country is the largest financial contributor to Brazil’s Amazon Fund, which was set up to help the country stop deforestation of the basin.
“He is exempting himself from the responsibility,” Gesisky said, “while at the same time allowing his minister to make an agreement with legislators who have interests in the region.”
Lowering protections would normalise the claims of squatters who have illegally occupied lands inside state-controlled forest, usually for running cattle or mining operations. The destruction caused by these illegal activities was one of the major drivers of a 29% increase in deforestation in Brazil last year.
Climate Home’s reporting from the region has uncovered large numbers of squatters evading punishment for stripping forest by using fake names or by taking advantage of lax enforcement.