- The decision follows a lawsuit against the National Development Plan, which would have allowed extractive activities in the moorlands.
- Mining companies with land titles and environmental licenses will be prohibited from mining from now on.
- Colombia has the largest extension of moorlands globally –50% of the total– and the largest moorland in the world.
In an unexpected decision that received much applause, Colombia has closed its doors to mining and oil companies that are seeking to extract resources from the Andes.
The decision by Colombia’s highest court was taken after congress members –who were advised by Greenpeace last year– filed a lawsuit against a number of articles of Colombia’s National Development Plan, which allowed for mining activity in the moorlands.
“Yesterday, congress members signed a death sentence for Colombia’s moorlands, and the government made it clear that its development plan feeds the dark romance it has with the mining industry”, said Silvia Gómez, coordinator with Greenpeace in Colombia, on May 2015, soon after the Plan was passed by the Senate.
Nationwide protests followed the passage of the so-called “Moorlands Law”, alongside signature gathering campaigns; more than 71,000 people joined that initiative.
Now, less than a year since the lawsuit, the decision by the constitutional court effectively blocks 473 already existing mining titles for the moorlands. This means that mining companies, even with environmental licenses and all other paperwork in place, will be banned from carrying on any mining explorations. In their decision, the Court stated that despite the existence of mining titles, the right to a healthy environment should prevail, instead of “the rights granted by environmental licenses.”
The Ministry of the Environment and the Colombian government will need to apply this decision immediately. More than 300 mining operations in 25 moorlands throughout Colombia are expected to become affected by the policy, based on data from the National Authority of Environmental Licenses (Autoridad Nacional de Licencias Ambientales or ANLA).
With an area of more than 178,000 hectares, the Sumapaz Moorlands constitute one of the most important water sources in Colombia, and the habitat for the endangered speckled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), the moorland wolf (Pseudalopex culpaeus), the condor (Vultur gryphus), and jaguar.
Like Sumapaz, the moorlands represent the points of origin of Colombia’s main rivers, where water storage and regulation take place. These temperate grasslands make up only 1.7 percent of the country, but provide 70% of its fresh water.
The protection of these unique ecosystems could not have come at a more oportune time: currently Colombia is going through one of the worst droughts in history. Caused by the El Niño climate phenomenon, around 130 municipalities throughout the country are now having to ration their water use.