Brazil has approved a law granting licenses for wood logging in publicly owned sections of the Amazon rainforest, a move aimed at halting its destruction.
Under the new law – signed by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – timber companies will be given up to 40-year licenses under the condition that all logging be sustainable.
Independent inspections of licensed sites are to be carried out every five years. Critics of the law have argued this is not often enough.
But environmental groups and experts have hailed the new law as a milestone in the fight to preserve the Amazon, about 17 percent of which has been destroyed to date, studies say.
Lula noted that the agreement broke a long deadlock over how to deal with the Amazon Basin.
"Even up to a few years ago, there was no real dialogue about the rainforest – it was war. One was either for the destruction of the rainforest, or considered the Amazon a sanctuary that was not to be touched," he said.
The Amazon has long suffered from an illegal and violent logging trade. A prominent US nun and environmental activist was fatally shot a year ago in the Pará state, by the order of two ranch owners.
Pará state is the site of much of the illegal logging in the country – and is believed to even harbor slave trade.
About 75 percent of the rain forest is publicly owned, and the government plans to offer commercial access to three percent of the rainforest in its possession over the next 10 years.
International environmental activist group Greenpeace welcomed the new law.
"Timber companies will be forced to respect the law, and to exploit the rainforest only in a manner that is sustainable," said Paulo Adario, coordinator of the group’s campaign in the Amazonian region.
Lula’s government came under heavy criticism last year for failing in its pledge to combat increased logging, causing the Green Party to leave the coalition government.
The resignation was sparked by figures showing 2003-2004 to have been the second worst logging year for the Amazon, when 26,000 square km of forest were destroyed – about half the size of Switzerland.
The Amazon forest was once as big as the whole of western Europe but logging and cattle ranching in recent decades have already removed an area the size of France from the forest.
Experts say the Amazon is even more important to the world’s climate than previously thought.
Not only does it soak up vast quantities of carbon dioxide which adds to the greenhouse effect if it is released through burning, but destruction of the forest is now thought to affect rainfall patterns across wide areas of the world.
Mercopress – www.mercopress.com