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Colombia’s supreme court orders government to stop Amazon deforestation

  • Colombia’s supreme court granted protections, filed by 25 children and other young people, that affirm that deforestation in the Colombian Amazon violates their rights to health and life.
  • In the ruling, the supreme court ordered the president of Colombia and environmental authorities to create an action plan to protect this important natural area.
  • This article is a journalistic collaboration between Mongabay Latam and Semana Sostenible of Colombia.

The consequences of today’s destruction of nature will mainly affect future generations. This is the premise behind the Colombian supreme court’s recent historic environmental decision: to accept the ideas presented by a group of Colombian children and other young people who say that the deforestation of the Amazon puts their livelihood at risk. They have demanded that the Colombian government take steps to stop the destruction.

According to the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and Environmental Studies (IDEAM), Colombia lost 178,597 hectares (over 440,000 acres) of virgin forest in 2016. This number is a 44 percent increase since 2015. Of the forests lost in 2016, 70,074 hectares (about 173,000 acres) disappeared from the Amazon, one of the planet’s most biodiverse regions, which plays a fundamental role in the regulation of the climate and hydrological cycles.

Guaviare Department, whose jungle connects the Amazon and the Orinoquía natural region, is one of the five departments in Colombia with the most deforestation. Photo courtesy of Semana Sostenible.
The Guaviare Department’s jungle connects the Amazon and the Orinoquía natural region. It is one of the five most highly deforested departments in Colombia. Photo courtesy of Semana Sostenible.

Even though the Colombian government has taken on international responsibilities to reduce the deforestation in this area and has programs designed specifically for this reason (such as Visión Amazonía), various environmental experts and organizations say that the deforestation is getting out of control. There is not yet a consolidated estimate for 2017, but experts say that deforestation numbers will be higher than in 2016.

The Amazon has been the site of 66 percent of early deforestation alerts put out by IDEAM in 2017. By as early as February 2018, the Guaviare Department in Colombia had lost more than 20,000 hectares (nearly 50,000 acres) of forest due to illegal fires in order to establish cattle ranches, coca plantations, and highways.

This is an environmental tragedy for which the Colombian government has not yet had an effective response. For this reason, 25 Colombian children and young people, represented by the director of the Center for the Study of Rights, Justice, and Society (Dejusticia), César Rodríguez Garavito, presented a plea to the supreme court in February. They asked for a solution so that the deforestation no longer threatens their fundamental rights to health, to a clean environment, and to life.

“We are too young to stop climate change and deforestation, but we will be directly affected by the decisions that are being made today,” argued Gabriela Eslava, one of Dejusticia’s lawyers. According to data from the IDEAM, Colombia’s temperature could increase by 1.6 degrees Celsius by 2041. This would reduce rainfall by up to 32 percent in the country, spurring multiple disasters.

The deforestation in the Colombian Amazon continues. Photo courtesy of PNN-IDEAM-CDA-Corpoamazonía Flyovers.
The deforestation in the Colombian Amazon continues. Photo courtesy of PNN-IDEAM-CDA-Corpoamazonía Flyovers.

According to the Supreme Court, the Colombian government has not efficiently confronted the deforestation problem in the Amazon, despite having signed several international agreements. The Supreme Court agreed that the issue of deforestation is directly linked to global warming, and that the young people pushing for these regulations would be particularly impacted by any further steps.

“The above factors directly generate deforestation in the Amazon, causing short-, medium-, and long-term damage, an imminent and grave danger to children, adolescents, and adults, for present and future generations; it uncontrollably propels the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, producing the greenhouse effect, which transforms and fragments ecosystems, altering the water cycle and, therefore, the water supply to population centers and degradation of the land,” reads part of the order.

Therefore, just as the court acted in the past with the Atrato River, the supreme court has declared the Amazon an entity “subject to rights,” says the protection, to conservation, maintenance, and restoration by the Colombian government and local authorities. To achieve this goal, the protection orders the president of Colombia and other national, regional, and municipal authorities to adopt a short-, medium-, and long-term action plan to protect this region of Colombia.

Among the other measures ordered by the supreme court’s protection are the construction of the “Intergenerational Pact for the Life of the Colombian Amazon” (PIVAC), which will outline measures to reduce deforestation and greenhouse gases to zero. This will be implemented through national, regional, and local control strategies that span preventative, obligatory, corrective, and pedagogical methods directed at counteracting climate change.

Guaviare is one of Colombia’s departments most affected by deforestation. Photo courtesy of the Colombian Air Force.
Guaviare is one of Colombia’s departments most affected by deforestation. Photo courtesy of the Colombian Air Force.

Likewise, the protection plan requires all the municipalities within the Colombian Amazon to update their territorial order plans in order to confront deforestation in their areas of jurisdiction. It also gives a decisive deadline to Corpoamazonía, Cormacarena, and to the Corporación Dios es Amor (CDA) (God is Love Corporation) to implement an action plan to confront the deforestation problem by use of police, judicial, and administrative officials.

As of now, none of the involved entities have spoken about this protection for the future of Colombia’s natural wealth. For the first time in the country’s history, a judicial body has recognized that climate change will have effects on human health and quality of life, and has taken steps to order the rest of the country to take effective action to mitigate those effects.

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