The federal Constitution grants all individuals the right to enjoy an ecologically balanced environment, while both the government and society play a role in its protection and preservation for present and future generations. However, environmental protection also relies on other constitutionally established instruments at three different levels - civil, criminal and administrative.
Among the offered blocks distributed in onshore and offshore basins during the 11th bidding round, those situated along the Brazilian equatorial coast are of the greatest concern to environmentalists. Although these promising discoveries have raised the oil and gas industry's expectations, the feasibility of exploration and production in the region could be challenged by environmental issues.
The Constitution legitimises the protection of environmental assets. Such protection is considered a fundamental right, essential to a healthy lifestyle. However, the Constitution also considers the right to economic development equally fundamental. Therefore, in spite of the known environmental impact of mining activity, the Constitution expressly allows it, as it is considered an activity of national economic interest.
Brazil has been facing criticism from international institutions and non-profit organisations regarding the environmental and social impacts of the implementation of hydropower projects in the Amazon. Brazil has a large renewable energy sector, but 70% of the non-explored hydropower potential is located in environmentally sensitive areas, mainly in the Amazon and the Brazilian savannah.
Steel manufacturers carry a heavy social and environmental burden with regards to the charcoal that is used in the steel production chain. A significant proportion of the charcoal consumed as fuel by steel mills is produced under dubious practices. Steel mills have taken significant steps towards the adoption of sustainable practices, especially focusing on higher standards for the selection of charcoal manufacturers.
Rio de Janeiro has achieved a new milestone in its mission to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the state. A new regulation has been passed by the state environmental agency, in alignment with its climate change policy set forth in 2010. The state has imposed new obligations on businesses responsible for high GHG emissions, which will help to achieve its aim of promoting the transition to a low-carbon economy.
In recent years the discovery of new contaminated sites has become routine for Brazil's environmental agencies. The authorities have therefore established specific regulations that aim to address the clean-up and public disclosure of such sites, including an obligation to provide notice of contamination to the Land Registry Office. This is in line with both national and international environmental law.
A recently proposed complementary law represents hope for the end of jurisdiction disputes among federal, state and local environmental agencies in Brazil, increasing the efficiency of environmental permitting procedures and allowing the country to develop its infrastructure in a swift and environmentally conscious manner. Proposition of the law has therefore been classified as a matter of urgency.
Companies' individual practices for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are often discussed, but few tools are available for collective reduction. Following the imposition of increasingly strict targets in Brazil, companies that utilise a given production technique to reduce their emissions are being encouraged to consider waiving IP considerations and disseminating such techniques to all players in their sector.
Brazil has finally established its National Policy on Solid Waste. The policy is based on the 'polluter pays' principle and the principle of sustainable development, and introduces the reverse logistics system. Under this system, manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers of pesticides, batteries, tyres, fluorescent lamps and electronic devices shall take these products back after consumption.
Because of the uniqueness of mangrove ecosystems, and as much mangrove has been destroyed, Brazilian legislation sets down severe restrictions with regard to such areas. Several protection programmes are in place which prevent vegetation being cut down unless the state has declared it to be a matter of public utility or social interest and no alternative is available.
The discharge of ballast water that is used to ensure the stability of ships and platforms has become an issue of growing concern. The increase in international trade through maritime carriage and the expansion of the Brazilian shipbuilding industry in light of the new frontiers of offshore oil and gas development and production, as well as the trading of by-products, all render the issue even more relevant.
Business managers are becoming increasingly aware that the environment can no longer be ignored. In Brazil, any activity that violates norms and is considered to be harmful to the environment is subject to penalties, as well as an obligation to remedy the damage caused. Consequently, environmental exposure has emerged as an important risk issue for the insurance market.
Like many countries, Brazil is becoming more conscious of post-consumption responsibility and is building a system of environmental liability based on this principle. The aim is to turn businesses into major players in environmental protection, especially in the end-of-life management of products. However, greater political will and legislative changes are needed.
According to Brazilian legislation, the owner of a property must comply with its social and environmental obligations. Thus, the owner must respect several rules in order to maintain the correct use of its property. With regard to environmental issues, in particular those involving contaminated land, the most important principle relating to property use is the principle of prevention (ie, avoiding the reoccurrence of previously known damage).
The Brazilian environmental liability system has its foundations in the Federal Constitution, which states that individuals or companies that carry out an activity considered harmful to the environment shall be subjected to penal and administrative penalties, in addition to the obligation to rectify the damage caused. Thus, environmental damage can be penalized in three distinct areas: administrative, criminal and civil.
Brazilian environmental legislation provides that environmental permits are required for the construction, installation, expansion or operation of any activity that uses environmental resources or is considered to be actually or potentially polluting to the environment. The extent of the activity's actual or potential polluting impact on the environment will determine the federal level at which it is regulated.
Brazilian environmental laws and regulations are strict and long-term efforts from all participants are required in order to improve their enforceability and effectiveness. Law firms play a key role in this enforcement. Among other things, law firms are responsible for advising socially responsible companies on how best to tackle the pressing issue of climate change and its impact on the environment.
Among recent regulations passed is Regulation 319, which was enacted by the Ministry of the Environment. The rule establishes minimum requirements for the accreditation, registration and certification of environmental auditors of oil rig facilities, platforms, pipelines and refineries.
A new regulation establishes criteria for the mandatory registration of the laboratories, vivaria and greenhouses which are used to conduct research into genetically modified organisms under a restricted regime. Meanwhile, the governor of the state of Minas Gerais has signed a series of decrees relating to environmental issues in order to mark World Environment Day.