By: Laura Ouseley
Brazil's Supreme Court has upheld major changes to laws that protect the Amazon rainforest, including reducing penalties for past illegal deforestation. The decision has been criticised by environmental groups in Brazil and elsewhere, including aid agency CAFOD.
"This news signals a worrying trend towards reducing environmental protection of the Amazon basin which serves as the lungs of our planet, and that we all depend on for our survival" said Esther Gillingham, CAFOD's Brazil Programme Officer.
"This new format of the Brazilian Forest Code sends the message that illegal deforestation in the past will be forgiven, and sets a dangerous precedent for the future. The socio-environmental impact could potentially be widespread - the reduction of Permanent Preservation Areas could lead to increased climate disasters such as floods and landslides, and increased deforestation in legal reserves could lead to further loss of biodiversity, water sources, desertification and worsening of the greenhouse effect.
"In line with Pope Francis' message in his encyclical Laudato Si', together with our local partners in Brazil, we are calling for more decisive socio-environmental protections of the world's most precious natural assets and those that courageously defend them. As the Brazilian Government relaxes environmental protections, the country's indigenous peoples - those who we all rely on to protect the Amazon rainforest - are facing some of the most serious rights violations and threats in recent years. We stand in solidarity with them to protect our common home."
A spokesperson for CAFOD's Brazilian partner, the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), said: "This change in legislation is the biggest setback in the history of Brazilian environmental legislation.
"We cannot help but lament that, for the lack of only one or two votes, several relevant issues were not corrected, such as the cancellation of slope and hilltop protection and the amnesty granted to those charged with illegal deforestation. Brazil is left with environmental legislation that is too lenient and generally insufficient."