Now is the moment to send contributions for the new plan to combat deforestation in the Amazon and pressure state governments to adopt a zero deforestation target.

The federal government has put a preliminary version of the 5th phase of the Amazon Prevention and Control of Deforestation Plan (PPCDam) up for public consultation until April 26th. Initially launched in 2004, PPCDam is considered one of the major strategies implemented by Brazil to combat deforestation. When Brazil reduced 80% of the annual forest loss in the Amazon between 2004 and 2012, the government prioritized and executed several of the actions from PPCDam.

One of the major novelties of this new phase of PPCDam is the target of achieving zero deforestation by 2030. This commitment has already appeared in President Lula’s and ministers’ speeches since the beginning of his term. Now it is included in a government document. However, it will still be necessary to formalize this target as a goal of Brazil, for example, through a presidential decree or even in a new submission of Brazilian commitment to the framework convention on climate change.

The plan has four pillars:

Pillar I – Sustainable productive activities;

Pillar II – Environmental monitoring and control;

Pillar III – Land and territorial planning;

Pillar IV – Normative and economic instruments.

The main characteristic of PPCDam is to place the task of combating deforestation at the highest level of government, bringing together different ministries that can act to contain or increase this environmental problem. This last aspect is perhaps the most relevant of the plan because it is not enough to leave the fight against deforestation solely with agencies linked to the Ministry of Environment if the rest of the public administration’s departments do not align their policies with forest conservation.

In this sense, I highlight objective 11 of the plan, in Pillar III of land and territorial planning, which aims to align the planning of large infrastructure projects with the national goal of reducing deforestation. Objective 11 determines the strengthening of the assessment of technical, economic, and environmental feasibility studies (EVTEA) and the assessment of indirect impacts that projects may cause to the target of zero deforestation by 2030.

Infrastructure projects implemented in the Amazon continue to ignore evaluations that indicate their environmental or economic unfeasibility. A recent example is the paving of the BR-319, which connects Porto Velho to Manaus. In 2022, the federal government granted a preliminary license for the project, but studies indicate that the paving will impact a much larger territory than previously considered. Instead of estimating this project’s affected area within a fixed distance from the highway (such as 10 km or even 50 km from its margins), the licensing should evaluate the area that would become accessible to the market in the case of paving. Such accessibility would attract a rush to land occupation, aiming to expand the agricultural frontier and speculation, increasing deforestation.

According to an assessment published in 2022 by the Amazônia 2030 initiative, the market accessibility area with the paving of BR-319 would cover more than 140,000 km2, in addition to 49 indigenous territories and 49 conservation units. As a comparison, the impact zone that considers only 10 km2 from the edges of BR-319 corresponds to only 7,600 km2! These data reinforce the importance of objective 11 included in the PPCDam to strengthen the assessment of EVTEA in projects under federal licensing. It also indicates the urgency of reviewing the previous license of BR-319.

To expand the scope of objective 11 of the PPCDam, I consider it essential to add a component of articulation with state governments, as appears in other proposed axes of the plan. Some projects are stimulated or licensed by state governments, which can also affect the zero deforestation goal. For example, during an official visit to China on April 14th, the government of Pará signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a Chinese infrastructure company to build the Pará Railroad, aiming to increase the flow of mineral and agricultural production in the state. However, before signaling the construction of the railway and signing agreements, it would be crucial to publicize how the EVTEA of this project was evaluated and how the construction of this railway would impact the zero deforestation goal by 2030.

Still, on the topic of large-scale developments, the effort of the PPCDam also needs to consider the threat of weakening environmental licensing legislation that persists in the National Congress. Bill 2.159/21, awaiting the Senate assessment, has already been approved by the House of Representatives in August 2021 and proposes several worrying changes. For example, the bill reduces the executive branch’s power to demand appropriate adjustments and mitigation measures in licensing processes. If approved, it will be a barrier to implementing objective 11 proposed in the plan.

Other aspects to highlight are some missing components of the PPCDam, like the goals, deadlines, projection of results, and monitoring indicators. According to the government, will be part of an Operational Plan to be launched after the public consultation. These elements were explicitly demanded in 2022 in the vote of Supreme Court Justice Carmen Lúcia, as the rapporteur in a lawsuit that called for the resumption of the PPCDam (ADPF 760). Bolsonaro’s government revoked the PPCDam, and seven political parties brought a case to the Supreme Court to compel the federal government to resume it.

The Supreme Court has not yet concluded the judgment of lawsuit ADPF 760, as one Justice requested more time for review. However, Justice Carmen Lúcia vote indicated that PPCDam needs to be resumed and have an operational component, including a description of the available budget. Her vote also demands monthly updates of the actions and results achieved by the plan to be available electronically.

This transparency in implementing the plan will be essential for quick evaluations that can correct failures and deficiencies. After all, achieving zero deforestation will require going far beyond what has been done in the past when Brazil substantially reduced the annual loss of the Amazon rainforest. The challenges are enormous!

This transparency in implementing the plan will be essential for quick evaluations that can correct failures and deficiencies. After all, achieving zero deforestation will require going far beyond what has been done in the past when Brazil substantially reduced the annual loss of the Amazon rainforest. The challenges are enormous!

Brenda Brito, lawyer and PhD in Science of Law from Stanford University

We will unlikely see a significant reduction in deforestation in 2023, considering what has already been cleared within the current deforestation calendar, measured from August to June. From August to December 2022, the deforestation alert area through the Deter system was 35% higher than in the previous year’s period. In other words, the deforestation rate for 2022-2023 is already partially “contaminated” by the previous government’s legacy.

Therefore, 2023 needs to be the year of establishing the groundwork for a significant and consistent drop in deforestation from 2024 onwards. This challenge requires a collective effort, and I see two actions for civil society now. First, we need to review and submit our contributions to the public consultation of the PPCDam, indicating which essential areas still need to be included. Second, we need to pressure state governments to publish their new plans to combat deforestation aligned with the zero-deforestation goal by 2030. After all, if states do not align their policies, discourse, and actions for a deforestation-free reality, it will be even more challenging to achieve results with the new PPCDam.

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

About the writer

Lawyer and PhD in Science of Law from Stanford University. Born and resident in Belém (Pará State), she is an associate researcher at Imazon, working for 18 years to improve environmental and land laws and policies for the conservation of the Amazon Rainforest.