Under the 1965 Forest Code, private landowners were required to preserve varying amounts of native vegetation on their property, depending on the type of land:
- 80% for land in the Amazon
- 35% for savannah
- 20% for other landscapes
Needless to say, there was systematic noncompliance with these rules over the decades resulting in massive deforestation. For a number of reasons, compliance began to improve in the late 1990s, however, and the revised code seeks to lock this in.
To accomplish this, the 2012 Forest Code divides past violators into two groups. Smallholders, who together own 90% of rural properties but only 24% of rural land area, are granted a partial amnesty and must reforest only 20% of their plots. Ruralistas and other property owners, who hold 10% of rural properties but 76% of rural land, are not granted amnesties and must fully reforest their lands as specified by law.
Despite complaints by some environmentalists, this is an ambitious goal that, if met, would result in substantial reforestation in Brazil and significant accompanying carbon sequestration. Given the country's problematic history of inadequate forest law enforcement and general disregard for reserve requirements, this goal will not be met in its entirety. Yet considering the intransigence typical of large landowners and agribusiness in Brazil, the government of President Dilma Rousseff ought to be congratulated for setting the bar as high as it has and supported in its efforts to implement the updated law.