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Brazil: Key player at COP 16 but bad example at home?

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon.

In Cancún, there was great deal of expectation towards the Brazilian delegation. The South American country was regarded by COP 16 president Patricia Espinosa as one of the key players paving the way of a positive outcome.

Meanwhile, back in Brazil, the new Forestry Code proposal had suddenly made its way back to the National Congress end of year voting agenda. The blog Eco [pt], a daily insider on the COP 16 negotiations run by the Climate Action Network (CAN), stated that “Brazil seems to be its worst enemy” and analyzed the new Forestry Code:

[…] Brazilian House of Representatives is ready to approve a new forest [sic] code that will be the most shameful endorsement of anthropogenic global warming in recent history. And it seems that some 370 of the 513 Representatives are ready to approve this leap backwards.
The bill provides amnesty to illegal deforestation and degradation, it reduces the preservation area along rivers, and eliminates the need for legal reserves for rural properties of a certain size and a discount for larger properties.

Rise in deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest – The Brazilian Amazon rainforest had 5.850 km2 of its legal area deforested from August 2009 to April 2010, according to INPE- Instituto de Pesquisas Espaciais. Brazil. Photo by Roni Luis Leite, copyright Demotix (23/08/2010)

The proposal had raised concerned discussions months ago (read Global Voices’ coverage), when approved by a Special Committee on Forestry Law Changes. But it was postponed to 2011 on the request of President Lula. Two of the new Forestry Code's most controversial aspects are the granting of deforestation amnesty to farmers, and the permission for state governments to have different rules of river bank vegetation.

The issue had almost disappeared until December 7, when about 370 federal representatives supported a request for the new Code to be brought as an urgent matter into the House's agenda next year. Leaders of 10 political parties gave their supporting signature, thus committing 364 representatives from their parties.

Nonetheless, they were unable to approve the request, as Juliana Russar, a Brazilian Negotiator Tracker from Global Campaign for Climate Action at COP 16 registered on her blog [pt]:

P.S.: Lembro também que ontem houve a tentativa felizmente frustrada dos ruralistas de votar com urgência as alterações do Código Florestal no Congresso, o que gerou uma intensa mobilização da sociedade civil tanto em Brasília quanto aqui em Cancún […]

P.S.: I'd like to remind you that there has been a fortunately failed attempt by the “ruralistas” [ruralist caucus or ruralist bench] to vote on the Forestry Code amendments with urgency in Congress, which generated intense mobilization by civil society in Brasilia and here in Cancún […]

The Brazilian branch of the NGO Greenpeace soon made public [pt] the list of the new Code supporters through their Twitter profile:

GreenpeaceBR: Veja a lista dos 374 deputados que empunharam a motosserra e colocaram o Código Florestal no rol de votações neste ano. http://bit.ly/eAhH1G

GreenpeaceBR: Check the list of 374 representatives who held the chain saw and added the Forestry Code to this year's voting list. http://bit.ly/eAhH1G

Despite President Lula‘s decision, congressman Cândido Vaccarezza, leader of the Lula administration in the House of Representatives, supported the initiative of the ruralistas to add the proposal of Code amendments into next year's voting agenda. It is worth mentioning that Vaccarezza is currently running for Presidency of the House.

News travelled fast and took Brazilians at COP 16 aback. Marina Silva, a member of Senate, former Minister of Environment and Presidential candidate in the 2010 elections, was in Cancún when she tweeted about the Forestry Code [pt]:

marina_silva: O alcance dos compromissos do Brasil em Copenhague para reduzir emissão de CO2 depende da manutenção dos avanços da legislação ambiental.

marina_silva: The extent of Brazil's commitments to reduce CO2 emissions in Copenhagen relies on keeping environmental law improvements.

Minutes later, she had a message to Vaccarezza:

marina_silva: Os avanços ambientais não podem ser moeda de troca para conquistar a presidência da Câmara. O Código Florestal não pode servir à barganha

marina_silva: Environmental improvements cannot be bargaining chips with which to win the Presidency of the House. The Forestry Code cannot be used for barter

Golden Chainsaw Award for efforts towards deforestation

In Cancún, also on December 8, Greenpeace Brazil members awarded ruralist senator Kátia Abreu [pt] with the Golden Chainsaw [pt], for, as they call it, “her efforts towards deforestation”. She angrily refused the award, which was delivered by a Brazilian indigenous woman. Senator Abreu, who owns a farm in the state of Tocantins and since 2008 is president of the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA), travelled to Cancún to spread the word about CNA's vision of environmental protection and agricultural development as a viable combination in Brazil.

Brazilian indigenous woman delivering the Golden Chainsaw Award to Senator Kátia Abreu, in Cancún. Photo by Greenpeace Brazil.

In order to promote itself during the COP 16, the CNA launched the online coverage “CNA @ COP16″, with versions in English and Portuguese. The CNA also presented the product of a partnership with Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural and Livestock Research Company) and the Biomes Project related to food supply and environment:

The world population will increase to nine billion people as of 2050, demanding an expansion of 70% in food production. The great challenge of our times is to supply this demand, which is the product of a population that only grows, and preserve the environment at the same time.

With audio in English and subtitles in Spanish, a video specially made for COP 16 promotes a system where the CNA says it recognizes the importance of keeping forests standing and of protecting Brazil's ecosystems.

The project's content is quite impressive and promising, but journalist and blogger Leonardo Sakamoto linked it [pt] to the Forestry Code and believes Brazil is better off without either:

[…] os danos que serão causados pelas mudanças no Código não serão bem maiores que os R$ 40 milhões que serão aplicados no programa? Uma coisa não exclui a outra, é claro. Mas se tivermos que fazer um acordo, que tal deixar tudo como está, sem projeto e sem mudança no Código?
Até para que a CNA não seja acusada de greenwashing, lá fora, e lavagem de imagem aqui dentro, não é mesmo?

[…] won't future damage caused by amendments in the Code cost more than the 40 million reais funding this project? They are not mutually exclusive, of course. But if we have to make a deal, what about leaving the situation as it is, with neither the project nor Code amendments?
Nobody wants the CNA accused of greenwashing overseas, or trying to clean up its image here, right?
Amazon jungle, rivers and islands, copyright by Flickr user Rosadosventos22 (used with permission)

Amazon jungle, rivers and islands, copyright by Flickr user Rosadosventos22 (used with permission)

The announcement [pt] of the lowest deforestation rate in the Amazon since 1988 (when government started keeping track of it) is definitely good news, at 6.451 km2 of the rainforest destroyed. The website O Eco Amazonia points out for what this number really means: it signifies an area bigger than 10 Brazilian capital cities altogether. It is as if São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro, Belém, Fortaleza, Porto Alegre, Recife, Salvador, Curitiba and João Pessoa had all been cut down in 2010. In order to give a detailed view on deforestation, the website maps in red the area of rainforest destroyed through 2008.

As the new Forestry Code still awaits a vote, it seems the debate of environment and agriculture in Brazil will come up again and again, especially with the scenario of climate change.

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon.

This post was proofread by Janet Gunter.

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