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Proposals before Congress could worsen environmental disasters such as flooding in the RS

Environmentalists point to 28 proposals with a chance of passing that could increase deforestation and loosen environmental licensing rules

Floods that have left Rio Grande do Sul in a state of public calamity have sparked debate over proposals before Congress that environmentalists say could intensify the occurrence of extreme weather events.

Monitoring by the Climate Observatory indicates that there are 25 bills and three proposals to amend the Constitution that could increase environmental destruction and which could advance quickly in the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate.

These are attempts to amend Brazilian legislation to reduce conservation areas of forests and other vegetation, relax regulations on environmental licensing and inspection mechanisms, or provide amnesty for land grabbers and loggers.

According to environmentalists interviewed by BBC News Brasil, these proposals, if approved, will intensify extreme events such as droughts and floods, because the deforestation of forests and other vegetation, associated with other climate events such as global warming, influence the rainfall regime in several ways. set off.

Lawmakers who support these proposals argue that environmental protection standards in Brazil would be excessive and rigid, hindering economic development.

These 28 proposals monitored by the Climate Observatory are defined by environmentalists as a “new package of destruction”.

Some projects have been proposed by deputies of Rio Grande do Sul, such as PL 1282/2019, by Senator Luis Carlos Heinze (PP/RS), which allows the construction of irrigation basins in permanent conservation areas, such as river banks. The proposal passed the Senate in December and is now being considered by the House.

Heinze denies that his proposal threatens the environment. In his opinion, these basins will help retain part of the rainwater, preventing rivers from overflowing during floods, and also ensuring water supply in times of drought.

His state, Rio Grande do Sul, faced three consecutive years of severe drought, between 2021 and 2023, impacting agricultural production.

“So it’s the opposite of what (the critics) say. I tell you it’s a solution,” he argued to the reporter, also underlining that his proposal forces the producer to compensate for the deforestation of the permanent conservation area.

The executive secretary of the Climate Observatory (OC), Marcio Astrini, disputes the senator’s reasoning. He explains that permanent conservation areas include vegetation on hilltops, slopes and riverbanks, which are essential for minimizing environmental tragedies. If this vegetation is deforested, for example, the risk of landslides or rising rivers increases.

“It’s not for nothing that these areas are permanent conservation areas. If you remove the riparian forest (the vegetation on the banks of the rivers), you compact the soil. When it rains, instead of seeping into the soil, the water flows directly into the river, increasing the flood,” he exemplifies.

“This is the kind of project that speaks directly to what is happening now in Rio Grande do Sul,” he points out.

Astrini adds that nothing stops producers from building irrigation basins in other areas of the property, further away from the river banks.

The occupation of river banks encourages flooding, say environmentalists

Another proposal that worries environmentalists also came from a parliamentarian from Rio Grande do Sul – PL 364/2019, from MP Alceu Moreira (MDB/RS), which reduces the protection of the so-called high altitude, associated or covered camps from the Atlantic Forest.

The proposal was definitively approved in March by the Constitution and Justice Commission (CCJ) of the Chamber, meaning it can reach the Senate without being analyzed by the deputies in the Chamber.

The text provides that any anthropic (man-made) occupation prior to 22 July 2008, even if it has not caused the destruction of native vegetation, will be classified as a consolidated rural area, being freed for productive activities.

With the proposal, MP Alceu Moreira sought to serve, primarily, producers from Rio Grande do Sul, in the northeast of the state, a region known as Campos de Cima da Serra. In his opinion, the Atlantic Forest Act wrongly treats high-altitude fields with the same rigor as forest formations in that biome.

“As a result, rural producers who own land in the so-called ‘Campos de Cima da Serra’ are practically unable to use their properties. Large portions of land cannot produce, and farmers who plant or raise animals in these areas for pure necessity of survival end up being accused and treated like criminals”, he states in the motivation for the project.

It also argues that activities in these regions would have minimal impact. “The traditional exploration carried out in Campos de Altitude has guaranteed the sustainable development of the regions in which it is located, since it preserves much of the natural characteristics of these ecosystems, without observing serious degradation. Extensive farming, for example, prevents the densification of trees and contributes to maintaining a stable structure and diversity of rural vegetation”, he further argued in proposing the PL.

The Climate Observatory report assesses that the text approved by the CCJ “eliminates the protection of all native fields and other non-forest formations”. This would have the effect of “leaving approximately 48 million hectares of indigenous fields across the country completely unprotected, which means not protecting 50% of the Pantanal (7.4 million hectares), 32% of the Pampa (6 .3 million hectares) and 7% of the Cerrado (13.9 million hectares), to which are added almost 15 million hectares in the Amazon”.

Criticizing the proposal, lawyer Mauricio Guetta, legal consultant of the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), underlines the importance of protecting different types of vegetation.

“In Brazil there are predominantly forest biomes, such as the Amazon Forest and the Atlantic Forest, but the other biomes must also be preserved. The Cerrado, for example, is the cradle of the waters of Brazil,” he says, referring to the springs and rivers in the region that supply important river basins across the country, such as the Xingu, Araguaia, Tocantins, São Francisco and Paraná rivers.

“Its vegetation (of the Cerrado) is of great importance for the health of the rivers, both for the quality and quantity of water that supplies the population, the agro-industry itself and the industry. We are therefore talking about essential vegetation. it’s because it’s not forestry that doesn’t matter,” he said.

Envira, in Amazonas, was one of the municipalities that declared a state of emergency due to drought in 2023

Largest area of ​​endangered SP in the Amazon

One of the proposals that most worries the environmentalist is the attempt to reduce the protected area of ​​the Amazon, whose deforestation increases the emission of gases that cause global warming and influences the rainfall regime in various parts of the country.

PL 3334/2023 by Senator Jaime Bagattoli (PL-RO) was supposed to be voted on by the Constitution, Justice and Citizenship (CCJ) Committee of the Federal Senate of Brazil on Wednesday (8/5), but its consideration has been postponed.

The bill attempts to reduce the legal reserve (mandatory conservation zone) on properties in the Amazon from 80% down to 50%.

According to a technical note from the Ministry of the Environment, the proposal could eliminate the protection of 28.17 million hectares of forest (281,661 km²), an area larger than the state of São Paulo (248,219 km²).

For Senator Jaime Bagattoli, the obligation to protect a high percentage of properties is unfair and hinders the development of the region.

“This (conservation) burden is imposed differently in the regions of the country. For a rural owner of an area located outside the Legal Amazon, it is sufficient to maintain 20% of the property as a Legal Reserve to comply with the established by law, while in the Amazon Legally, if the property is covered by forest, the legislation requires that the reserve be 80%”, I criticize, in the justification of the proposal.

“With the approval of this legislative proposal, we hope to encourage the development of Amazonian municipalities that already play an important role in forest conservation, achieving the desired sustainability in its fundamental tripod: environmental, economic and social,” he further states.

Marcio Astrini, of the Climate Observatory (OC), argues that the need to preserve the Amazon derives from its great importance for the environmental balance of the different regions. The same Northern region experienced a severe drought in 2023.

“The Amazon is extremely important because it distributes rain to the rest of the country. So, a lot of the plantations in the central west, south east and south depend on rain that comes directly from the Amazon,” he points out.

“The clouds (coming from the waters evaporating from the Amazon) hit the Andes and the winds, called trade winds, push these clouds throughout this south-central region of the country,” he continues.

For Mauricio Guetta, of the Instituto Socio Ambiental, the possibilities that the proposal will go ahead “are real”. Last Wednesday’s vote was postponed due to the medical leave of PL rapporteur, Senator Márcio Bittar (União Brasil-AC).

“These projects from the destruction package are not discussed calmly, during public hearings. They are projects that were approved during the process,” he points out.

“The project to reduce the legal reserve of the Amazon was on the agenda of the CCJ of the Senate this week, even in the face of the climate tragedy of Rio Grande do Sul. So, there is a push so that neither the climate emergency nor the disaster in Rio Grande do Sul appear to have sufficient strength to force these parliamentarians to institute a moratorium on these regressive projects,” he continued.

Speaking to the newspaper Valor Econômico, Senator Jaime Bagattoli denied on Wednesday (5/8) that his proposal to reduce the protected area in the Amazon is linked to the Rio Grande do Sul tragedy.

“It’s not the first time something like this has happened, there was also a flood in 1941,” he said.

His speech refers to the great flood that hit Porto Alegre eighty years ago, but it did not have the same destructive impact as the 2024 floods, which have already caused more than one hundred deaths and placed Rio Grande do Sul in a state of public calamity .

Source: Terra

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