Illegally deforested land shot from a helicopter belonging to Brazil’s federal environmental protection agency
Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF) has upheld several
controversial revisions to the Forest Code that will greenwash illegal
deforestation and, critics argue, will increase criminal behaviour by ag firms
in the Amazon.
Most controversially, the ruling upheld the amnesty granted
by the new code to those who illegally cleared in reserves before July 2008.
Brazilian civil society has long seen this point as the code’s most problematic
provision as it encourages illegal deforestation.
The STF’s ruling means that cattle ranching and crop
cultivation can continue in
areas illegally deforested before July 2008 without the need for reforestation
or payment of fines previously levied by IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental
The justices also maintained the constitutionality of other
provisions deemed to weaken environmental protection in the country, including
a new provision that will allow people who previously carried out illegal
deforestation to obtain new licenses.
The court’s ruling came as a disappointment to Brazilian
civil society. In a critical editorial,
the NGO Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) wrote that Brazil will end up
with a “weak forest code that is insufficient to promote its potential as a
forest country”. ISA also noted, however, that the STF reiterated essential
elements of environmental legislation, including the need to protect forests
for future generations and to take into account the grave consequences of
deforestation to the country’s biodiversity and prosperity.
Greenpeace Brazil expressed concern about
the potential for new amnesties in the future. De Olho nos Ruralistas, an
advocacy group, observed that
the STF’s decision pardons R$8.4 billion (US$2.6 billion) in fines for the
illegal deforestation of over 330,000 ha, mostly carried out between 2006 and
Activists and pressure groups have blamed the powerful influence of
the agribusiness lobby in Congress as the main driver behind the new forest
code and the recent weakening of environmental protections in the country.
Earlier this year, Reporter Brasil, an investigative
media outlet, exposed several
congressmen and women, as well as ministers, who had received donations from
illegal deforesters. In total, 249 legislators received close to R$59 million
(US$18 million) in donations from individuals and businesses that had been
fined by IBAMA for illegal deforestation. Reporter Brasil has connected this to
recent rollbacks in environmental protections, including the decision to reduce
the size of the Jamanxim National Forest.