On 11 November 2020, seven political parties with representation in Brazil’s National Congress brought an action against the Brazilian government before the Federal Supreme Court of Brazil. The petition sought the effective implementation of the public policy to combat deforestation in Brazilian Amazon, viz. the Action Plan for Prevention and Control of the Legal Amazon Deforestation (PPCDAm). The petition is in the nature of an Allegation of Disobedience of Fundamental Precept (ADPF). The ADPF claimed that the government’s actions and omissions in relation to the protection of forests in the Amazon, including within Indigenous Lands and Federal Conservation Units violates constitutional rights and prevents Brazil from fulfilling its climate targets assumed under the Paris Agreement and transposed into national laws.
The Federal Supreme Court decided in favour of the petitioners and ordered the Federal government to resume the PPCDAm, and strengthen the governmental organs linked to the socio-environmental agenda. The effect of this order was stopped on account of another judge of the Federal Supreme Court seeking a review of the decision.
Facts of the case:
The petitioners earmarked 2019-2020 as the relevant period for the purposes of the ADPF, since this period is allegedly marked by unprecedented attacks on Article 225 of the Brazilian Constitution which guarantees the right to an ecologically balanced environment. The petitioners alleged that the government abandoned and stopped enforcing the PPCDAm. They further alleged that the government has explicitly refused to cooperate with monitoring agencies and authorities for inspection and control of the use of forests (including the Brazilian Environmental Protection Agency); frozen the financing for the public policy for combating deforestation; and increased environmental deregulation. By way of evidence, the petitioners relied on statistics demonstrating an increase in deforestation notwithstanding a drastic reduction in notices of violations and cease-and-desist orders relating to forest conservation laws. They also relied on budget data of the main agencies which are entrusted with the execution of the public policy on combatting deforestation, and evidence pointing to the non-cooperation of the military in enforcement action.
The petition alleged violations of constitutional rights, viz. the right of present and future generations to an ecologically balanced environment (Article 225), which they argue includes a derivative ‘fundamental the integrity of the climate system or a fundamental right to a stable and secure climate’; rights of indigenous peoples to their traditional lands (Article 231); and cultural rights (Articles 215 and 216). The petitioners also argued that the government’s lack of transparency about implementation of the PPCDAm, its campaign to discredit agencies and institutions which provide data and information on the environment, including Federal agencies, and its denial of deforestation and climate change constitute violations of the right to information.
The Attorney General argued against the admissibility of the action on multiple grounds, viz. (i) that the action does not concern a constitutional issue and is rather a matter of administrative law, since the reliefs (administrative measures) requested by the petitioners do not directly follow from the text of the Brazilian Constitution; (ii) that admitting the case would run counter to the subsidiarity principle enshrined in the procedural law of the Federal Supreme Court, which requires that it should avoid admitting actions in the nature of an ADPF when there are other effective means of remedying the damage; and (iii) that the procedure for control of constitutionality is not suitable for allowing broad examination of evidence. The Attorney General further refuted the statistical evidence raised by the petitioners arguing that the reduction in number of notices of violations and cease-and-desist orders was attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic. On the merits, the Attorney General contended that the Federal Government had the prerogative to modulate its administrative strategies in line with the legal framework.
On 6 April 2022, Minister Cármen Lúcia of the Federal Supreme Court issued a decision in favour of the petitioners. She rejected the contentions of the Attorney General, deciding that there is no doubt as to the constitutional nature of the issues raised in the action; that a review of the Federal government’s actions in relation to the problem of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, which has negative repercussions for the climate, falls within the Federal Supreme Court’s jurisdiction; and the examination of evidence is not practically difficult (owing to the sufficiency of the information provided by governmental agencies and amici curae). The decision notes that non-compliance by Brazilian state organs with commitments under international environmental treaties amounts to a violation of the environmental duties emanating from the Constitution. Reading the principle of non-retrogression into Article 225 of the Constitution, the decision identifies acts of the Federal Government which were contrary to such principle.
The Court declared that the situation regarding the illegal deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and the omissions of the Brazilian State in relation to its protective functions was unconstitutional. It ordered the Federal Government to present a detailed plan for the implementation of the PPCDAs and effective protection measures relating to the Amazon forest and the rights of indigenous peoples and other inhabitants in protected areas, within 30 days from the decision. The decision also lists concrete benchmarks and targets that the Federal Government’s plan ought to be based on and seek to achieve.
Immediately following Minister Cármen Lúcia’s decision, Minister André Mendonça of the Federal Supreme Court requested a review of that decision, which effectively blocked the decision. As a result, the effect of the decision requiring the Federal Government to take certain actions within a set date stands suspended. The case is still pending before the Federal Supreme Court.
Decision (in Portuguese).
For further procedural information, visit Supremo Tribunal Federal.
Brazilian Federal Supreme Court, PSB et al. v. Brazil, case ADPF 760, decision of 6 April 2022.
03 August 2023.