A clash of policies? New Forest Code could undermine Brazil’s progress with REDD

BOGOR, Indonesia (4 August, 2011)_Brazil’s efforts to step up REDD+ activities with the development of a national REDD+ strategy could be undermined by the proposed changes to the Forest Bill, which could delay policy reforms and new legislation needed to curb deforestation in the Amazon, says a revised CIFOR study to be released this month.

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Scene from the Amazon, Brazil. Photo by Neil Palmer/CIAT

BOGOR, Indonesia (4 August, 2011)_Brazil’s efforts to step up REDD+ activities with the development of a national REDD+ strategy could be undermined by the proposed changes to the Forest Code, which could delay policy reforms and new legislation needed to curb deforestation in the Amazon, says a revised CIFOR study to be released this month.

“After a six month vacuum since Cancun, Brazil has finally started discussions on the institutional and benefit sharing mechanism of REDD, however, if the new Forest Code goes ahead, it will present major obstacles in pushing some of these reforms through“, said Maria Fernanda Gebara, CIFOR scientist and co author of the new study.

It is feared that a clash of policy reforms is inevitable with REDD+ initiatives geared towards compensating counties to protect their forests, while the proposed changes to the Forest Code – Brazil’s main law that protects the forest- would soften restrictions on the amount of land that landholders were legally allowed to deforest.

The findings are just some of the challenges highlighted in the 2011 revised edition : The context of REDD+ in Brazil: drivers, agents, and institutions (2011),  which examines national strategies and policy areas in the context of Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Degradation, or REDD+ schemes.

Maria Fernanda Gebara, talks to CIFOR about the revised Brazil country profile, the steps taken in moving forward with REDD+ activities as well as the challenges presented by the proposed changes to the Forest Code.

What has changed in Brazil since the last profile?

Since the last country profile, the main change in Brazil has been the approval of the Forest Code by the Camara of Deputies  (under the National Congress). The Camara passed a bill that is essentially a softening of the Code’s provisions with regard to permanent protected areas, legal reserve restoration requirements and sanctions; which could have big implications for REDD+ activities.

The bill still needs to be approved by the Senate, where we hope that some of the most harmful legalisation will be removed before approval. Another important change is the development of a national REDD+ strategy that will be presented at the fourth Earth Summit being held in Rio de Janeiro next year. It is hope that the commission formed to develop the strategy, will adopt a more bottom-up approach, giving considerable voices to NGOs, civil societies within the Amazon state, who have so far been leading the REDD+ movement.

What progress has Brazil made in preparing itself for REDD+?

A big drive to develop a REDD+ strategy at the federal level is currently in progress. The Secretary of Climate Change (under the Ministry of Environment) has just created a REDD+ commission which will focus on the development of a REDD+ national strategy.

Moreover, working groups consisting of the government, civil society organizations, social movements, research institutes and the private sector, have been set up to examine the possible options for REDD+ funding, benefit-sharing mechanisms and institutional arrangements in Brazil. Also, a joint proposal from the Amazon Environmental Institute (IPAM) and Secretary for Strategic Topics (SAE) was just published analysing different models for REDD+ implementation in Brazil.

The other piece of important news is that a National Fund for Climate Change has been created, that will among other things, fund actions by civil society organizations. About R$ 230 million (approx. US$ 150 million) has been allocated to the fund which will be channelled into tackling deforestation in the Cerrado, rather than the Amazon. This area is critical and is suffering higher deforestation rates than the Amazon, though much less attention is being paid to it.


The Forest Code has dominated discourse in Brazil. What is the current status of the bill?

The Forest Code bill was recently approved by the National Congress, however there has been a lot of controversy over last minute changes that were introduced which could have a major impact on Brazil’s land use policy and deforestation rates within the Amazon.

These include an amnesty for landowners that have previously deforested; allowing cattle ranching and agriculture in protected areas and decreasing the amount of forest that landholders are obliged to protect (from 80% to 50%).  Some of the media have accused the major deputies in Congress of being “bought” by the agribusiness sector for voting in favour of the changes and the whole process has been denounced as corrupt.  The code still needs to be approved and voted by the Senate which, most people are hoping, will provide an opportunity to revoke some of these decisions.

What impacts will the Forest Code have on deforestation?

The Forest Code is already having a huge impact on deforestation. Due to the uncertainty surrounding the amendments to the bill, deforestation rates have increased in many states since the beginning of 2011. In April 2010 in Mato Grosso, the total deforested area was 38 km², by April 2011, this had increased by 537%, to 243 km ² (Imazon, 2011).

The fact that the bill may give an amnesty to people who have deforested for years, means there is little incentive to stop deforesting.  On top of that, the possibility that agricultural activities and cattle ranching in protected areas may be authorized, means that landowners have started to carry out these activities already.

What implications will the Forest Code have for REDD?

The whole purpose of REDD+ is to be an incentive for people to not cut down the forest and reward those who keep the forest standing. The changes to the Forest Code Bill appear to contradict the very objectives of REDD+.  Without punishment or sanctions, there are no incentives for forest managers who have illegally deforested for years to stop their activities, while on the other hand, people that have been complying the law and keeping the forests intact, receive no reward or recognition.

From an equity standpoint, this is totally unfair. If the Forest Code goes ahead as it stands, it will have negative implications for the effectiveness of REDD+ implementation on the ground. There needs to be a strict and transparent law enforcement process that gives incentives to those who have been protecting the forest and not to landholders responsible for high levels of deforestation.

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