News

“Brazil’s Supreme Court has begun a historic trial about the environment”: an article by Carlos Joly and Jean Paul Metzger examines the impacts of the new environmental law  

30-09-2017

The Brazilian Forest Code, regulating the maintenance of native vegetation on private lands, was introduced in Brazil in 1965. It was valid with some changes until 2012, when it was replaced by the Law for Protection of Native Vegetation (Lei de Proteção da Vegetação Nativa). The introduction of the new law provoked widespread protests, with protesters demanding the then-president Dilma Rousseff to use her right of veto to reject it – which did not happen.

5 years later, in 2017, the Supreme Court (STF) met up on the 14th of September to discuss the legal grant of four legal actions submitted against the law once it was approved by the Brazilian Congress. On the same day, the newspaper Folha de São Paulo published an article authored by Carlos Joly and Jean Paul Metzger explaining to the general public what changes the new law brings and their impacts on the environment.

In general terms, the Law for Protection of Native Vegetation made the rules for protection of vegetation on private land more flexible than the relatively strict Forest Code. According to the authors, the new law does contain some important and positive changes – such as the requirement for the private owners to register in the CAR (Cadastro Ambiental Rural), which allows mapping the boundaries of their land and any changes to the native vegetation on their land.  However, the new law went too far in making the rules flexible. As a result, sensitive environmental areas such as riverbanks, water springs and hilltops will not be sufficiently protected, increasing the risks of floods or landslides. The article argues that in this sense the law can be seen as contradictory to the Article 225 of the Brazilian Constitution, which grants the rights to an essential environmental protection and healthy lifestyle. It is also deemed controversial as it grants amnesty to landowners (many of them large agricultural producers) who cleared the native vegetation illegally before July 2008, an area summing up to 41 hectares of land.

The article suggests two ways in which the current law could be improved. Firstly, it could take into consideration the vast areas of pastures with agricultural potential which are currently under-used. These pastures could be used to increase Brazil’s agricultural potential without impacting the cattle farming production. Secondly, the law should take into account the fact that native vegetation increases agricultural production, for example by protecting water springs and promoting pollination and pest control. The benefits of pollination have been estimated between 3.5 and 6.5 billion Brazilian Reals in 2016.

Maintaining the law in its current version will make Brazil even more vulnerable to environmental changes such as floods and climatic extremes. Brazil’s natural resources, however, have the potential to benefit all sectors of the society, including agriculture.

Unfortunately, due to the fact that the Supreme Court is overwhelmed with legal processes around denouncements of corruption in the highest levels of Brazilian politics, the judgment regarding the Law for Protection of Native Vegetation was not finalized on the 14th of September, being adjourned without a new date to be resumed.

 

ECOFOR scientists voice their concerns over planned mining activities in Renca in high-impact media

15-09-2017

The recent decision of the Brazilian government to open the vast area known as Renca (Reserva Nacional do Cobre e Associados) has provoked a reaction from environmental experts, including several ECOFOR researchers who have voiced their concerns in some of the most influential online information servers including BBC Brasil.

Joice Ferreira was quoted in the article which appeared in the Brazilian newspaper O Estadão which reported on the response to the government’s initiative from Brazilian celebrities such as the model Gisele Bündchen or the singer Ivete Sangalo. Joice described the government’s decision as ‘catastrophic’ as she believes that the mining will occur not only within the 30% of Renca as defined by the government, but it will also impact the surrounding protected areas.

BBC Brasil published a report on the situation entitled “A polêmica decisão de Temer de abrir uma área gigante da Amazônia à mineração” (Temer’s polemical decision to open a vast area in the Amazon to mining). The article quotes several experts with knowledge and experience of working in the Amazon including Jos Barlow and Erika Berenguer. Erika expressed her belief that the impact of the deforestation caused by logging and fires resulting from the influx of people in the area will be even greater than the pollution caused by the mining. Jos points out that despite the government’s guarantee that the mining will occur only in the designated areas, the decision will boost illegal mining, already happening in the area.

Following these two newspaper articles, the highly popular and influential blog The Conversation published a post authored by Jos, Erika, Joice, Alexander Lees and James Fraser. The article, entitled “Only local Amazonians can bring true sustainable development to their forest” puts the dispute around Renca into a broader political and socio-economic context and argues that despite the government’s promises that the mining will boost the local economy, this is very unlikely to happen – just like it did not happen in Carajás, another mining site in the Amazon which remains one of the poorest regions not only in Brazil but on the whole planet.

The reasons why mining does not bring local development are several: the mining companies are either international or based in the Southeast of Brazil and most profits going to wealthy landowners, not reaching the lower social classes. Given this situation, what are the alternatives for local development? According to the article, the real value of the Amazonian forest goes beyond immediate financial profit and includes the diversity of animal and plant species and the capacity to mitigate climate change. It is this new perspective that needs to be adopted, whilst empowering the local communities to deliver sustainable development.

 

A rare video of pollination of a flowering bamboo in the Atlantic Forest!

03-07-2017

Flowering of bamboos is an exciting event which only occurs once in 10-40 years. Bamboo flowers and the seeds serve as a resource to a wide range of animals – rodents, birds and insects. This short video by Will Briet captures the process of pollination by insects in one of our plots in the Atlantic Forest.