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Brazil May Miss Carbon Emission Targets With Forestry Bill

A bill that changes the way Brazilian forests are managed will prevent the nation from meeting its target to cut carbon emissions, said Marina Silva, a former presidential candidate and environment minister.

If passed in its current form, the legislation would forgive farmers for illegally clearing as much as 30 million hectares (74 million acres) of protected rain forest, Silva, 53, said in an interview yesterday, citing data from a recent study by government research agency Instituto de Pesquisa Economica Aplicada, known as IPEA. That’s about the size of the Philippines.

Brazil, which will host the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro next year, plans to cut deforestation in its Amazon by 80 percent and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 39 percent by 2020. The voluntary target was announced in 2009 during climate talks in Copenhagen by Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president who was then cabinet chief.

“It’s a very bad signal,” Silva said in the interview at the Bloomberg office in Sao Paulo. “Brazil committed to reducing carbon-dioxide emissions in Copenhagen and to meet this target, deforestation must keep on falling.”

Illegal logging has more than quadrupled in center-west state Mato Grosso, and is “out of control” in Rondonia and the southern Amazon region, as farmers and ranchers anticipate the law will pass and illegal logging will be pardoned, she said.

Pardoning Farmers

The mentality amongst farmers is that “If I’m pardoned now I can carry on deforesting because I’ll be pardoned again in the future,” Silva said.

The bill, which was approved by the house in a 410-63 vote on May 24, alters parts of Brazil’s 1965 forestry code. It’s now being discussed in the Senate.

Silva, who won 19.6 million votes in last year’s presidential election as Brazil’s Green Party candidate, spent her childhood tapping rubber trees in the Amazon rain forest and worked as a maid before entering politics. She was a senator from 1994 to early 2011 and served as environmental minister from 2003 and 2008, according to her official website.

Tons of Emissions

Brazilian ranchers have have cut down trees on 159 million hectares of land that should have left untouched, Fabio Alves, a specialist for Brasilia-based IPEA, said in a phone interview. If it were all to be replanted, Brazil would sequester 18.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide, enough to fulfill its Copenhagen obligations for the next 18 years.

The percentage of rural land that farmers needs to keep pristine under Brazil’s existing forestry code varies from 80 percent in parts of the Amazon to 20 percent in the swampy Pantanal region, he said.

If the bill is amended in the Senate to include an amnesty for larger farms, “which is likely,” Alves said, the pardon would extend to 48 million hectares, about the size of Cameroon, according to the report. “Those farmers wouldn’t be required to pay fines or replant what’s been cut,” he said.

Brazil’s emissions target calls for an annual cut of about 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, with two thirds coming from reduced deforestation, according to IPEA.

Renewables an ‘Opportunity’

Brazil has the land and water resources to increase its production of biofuels and hydroelectricity sustainably, if the projects comply with environmental regulations, Silva said.

About 63 percent of planned dams in the country are in the Amazon, she said. They don’t need to threaten biodiversity as long as they’re “environmentally viable,” which can’t be said of Brazil’s Belo Monte dam project that may lead to the flooding of 516 square kilometers (199 square miles) of Amazon forest, she said.

Brazil has more than 22 million hectares of “abandoned,” land in the Amazon, that could be used to produce power and crops, she said. “If Brazil uses all of this,” the nation could be “a big producer without having to rob forests,” she said.

Between 2000 and 2010, about 183,000 square kilometers of Amazonian rainforest were cleared, 35 percent of which was in the Mato Grosso, Brazil’s biggest soy-producing state and a popular destination for new ethanol projects, the National Institute for Space Research said on its website. Soybean oil is a raw material for biodiesel, which is used by Brazil’s heavy vehicles.

“Renewable energy comprises a big opportunity in Brazil with its flex-fuel cars, with ethanol, with biofuels,” as long as you “respect the legislation,” Silva said.

Mato Grosso planted 6.4 million hectares of soybeans during the 2010 to 2011 season, up 2.8 percent from the previous harvest, according to Associacao Brasileira das Industrias de Oleos Vegetais, Brazil’s oilseed processors association.

Brazil has 118 gigawatts of power capacity in operation, and 67 percent of that comes from large hydroelectric dams, according to electricity regulator Agencia Nacional de Energia Eletrica.

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