Sustainable Industry

The Brazilian Forest Code turns ten

Amid challenges, Brazil’s environmental legislation is on track to fulfill the commitments undertaken by the country under the Paris Agreement

As the Forest Code (Federal Law 12,651, of 2012) – a key instrument for environmental policymaking in the country – turns ten years old this month, it is on its way to meeting the commitments undertaken by Brazil under the Paris Agreement in 2016 for the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, despite some headwinds.

The new Brazilian forest legislation – which supersedes the previous 1965 legislation – was adopted following an extensive dialog with civil society. Ten years on, there are lots of reasons to celebrate. “This piece of legislation provides the necessary elements to public policies to ensure environmental conservation while supporting responsible agricultural production and ensuring environmental security to markets – with the potential to promote the expansion of low-carbon agribusiness,” says agronomist André Guimarães, CEO of the Institute for Environmental Research in the Amazon (Ipam). “The Forest Code also has also helped to boost engagement of the private sector in licit business with a commitment to the conservation of Brazil’s vegetation cover,” says Guimarães.

According to him, we can also celebrate “the institutionalization of innovative economic instruments in Brazil, such as payment for environmental services” and “expansion of registration of rural properties and integration of state data in the National Rural Environmental Registry System – SICAR.”

The SICAR system scans the data reported in the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR) in order to pinpoint potential overlaps with state-owned lands, protected areas and indigenous lands. SICAR currently holds more than 7 million entries, and covers nearly 5.5 million hectares of rural areas overlapping protected areas, which accounts for 2% of these territories. In indigenous lands, on the other hand, the overlap of rural areas covers as many as 12.3 million hectares, i.e., 10.4% of the areas available.

“Despite the extensive registration of rural properties in Brazil, a portion of these remains to be registered. These include lands covered by traditional territories, family-based farming and rural settlements, especially in the Amazon,” says Guimarães.

A brighter scenario – Forest engineer Raimundo Deusdará led the negotiations for the development of new forest legislation in 2012. He sees reasons to celebrate: “In the context of climate change, the Code is very topical.”

Deusdará stresses that the new piece of legislation retained the principles of the first legislation on forest conservation, which dates back to 1934 – including preservation of permanent conservation areas and legal reserves. Other improvements of the new legislation are management of environmental compliance at the state level and payment for environmental services.  “As the world wants farmers to receive compensation to keep the Amazon Forest standing, the Forest Code upholds this concept and principles to make sure the mechanism works,” he says.

He also notes that the industrial sector has helped strengthen Brazil’s forestry regulations. For instance, the 1965 legislation – which regulated eucalyptus-based reforestation – enabled Brazil to shift from the position of importer of pulp and paper to the position of largest exporter of these products. “Today we are leaders in this sector and have the best technology for mass forest production, which also contributes to carbon storage,” celebrates Deusdará.

The backdrop for the Forest Code today is more supportive, but Davi Bomtempo, executive manager for Environment and Sustainability at CNI, reiterates that Brazil must make an effort to enforce the legislation. “The environmental compliance of rural properties helps to enhance Brazil’s reputation among its main trading partners,” he says. “Putting the Forest Code on its feet is an urgent and strategic move for the country to be able to fulfill its commitments undertaken under the Paris Agreement,” he says.