Brazil’s leader vetoes portions of new Amazon rainforest law

Dilma Rousseff sends back parts of congressional bill that loosened country’s protection of forest

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has partially vetoed a bill that would have weakened her country’s efforts to protect the Amazon and other forests.

Environmentalists cautiously welcomed the last-minute decision, which came after the most closely watched political debate of the year in Brazil. But they warned that the battle was not yet over because large parts of the bill will still go through.

Last month, legislators in both houses passed a set of revisions to the Forest Code that threatened permanent preservation areas – a key provision in Brazilian environmental legislation – that obliged farmers to keep a proportion of their land as protected forests, particularly on the fringes of rivers and hillsides. This requirement has long been opposed by Brazil’s powerful agricultural lobby.

Critics warned that the bill would reverse 20 years of struggle to protect the Amazon rainforest.

One study by São Paulo University suggested the proposed revision could would result in deforestation of an additional 22 million hectares.

WWF, Greenpeace, the Brazilian Academy of Science and the Catholic Church urged Rousseff to completely veto the bill. The global activist group, Avaaz, collected 2 million signatures opposing the legislation.

With Brazil due to host the Rio+20 Earth Summit next month, approval of the bill would also have set a poor example of sustainability ahead of a conference that aims to set a new roadmap for the global environment.

But the bill was popular among powerful landowners, farmers and many business people, who said it would be good for the economy to ease protection measures.

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