Policy uncertainty in Colombia

At the opening ceremony of the COP21 climate summit in Paris, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos-recent peace Nobel winner, committed avidly to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 20% and a conditional target of a 30% reduction. It would seem that Santos is pushing towards the initiative on its quest to be an OECD and APEC member. Is this uncertain proposition calling in question the political realism of the climate strategy in Colombia?

The government is clearly in a dilemma. Despite embarking on a new career to ratify the climate agenda with the creation of 50 initiatives in eight sectors of the national economy, (it is highlighted an ambitious political measure on putting a price tax on carbon emissions) the highest priority of the government lies in deforestation. Thus, Colombia has one of the five highest rates of deforestation of tropical rainforest in the world, namely 140,350 hectares of forest disappeared in 2014- according to IDEAM1‑ , a region equivalent to the total area of Faroe Islands.

In order to address deforestation drivers and promote the sustainable use of forests, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom will support the commitment by contributing close to 300 million USD to help Colombia achieving its ambitious goals of zero net deforestation in the Amazon by 2020. The partnership will complement other programs such as it is the launch of Sustainable Colombia, a country-wide initiative based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Colombia is the first country to study the consequences for building peace through climate action in its INDC2‑ , however it does not provide a further plan to tackle the major threats to forests in the context of the recent rejection of Colombia’s peace agreement with FARC: illegal mining and illicit coca crops. Therefore, how to control illicit coca cultivation and mining endorsing the commitments made at COP 21 related to the reforestation policy? Structural Extended problem Out of 50 million hectares of existing forests in the country, 6 million hectares have been cleared over the past 20 years as stated by the Colombian Ministry of Environment. Additionally 58% of Amazon deforestation take place in regions with the highest rates of conflict. Minerals are the leading attraction in the area-as in the legendary tales of El Dorado. Hurriedly, Colombia merely defined the solution to deforestation problem by its counterpart: to reforest and increase protected areas significantly within a $ 600 billion target planned on a 15 year horizon according to the “Colombia Sustainable” report. Yet, this is a complex resolution to undertake in a scenario where the largest deforested regions are those with the highest rates of conflict as well, hence the structural problem lies within the land tenancy. Illegal mining has sharpened in recent years with the growth of the gold rush in the region where 85% of the national production comes from gold mines operating without any environmental license, according to the National Mining Agency. Accordingly, the extractive activity is the result of: first, an alternative approach to poverty for small-scale miners, second, the state bureaucracy at granting mining licenses to foreign corporations and third , the criminal activity of armed groups (FARC mainly) given the current loss of value in the production of coca and the substitution of coca production for gold mining .In this interconnection of government, miners and criminal groups – the direct magnitude of their activities upon the environmental degradation is left behind. Due to all of the above, it is inferred the crucial importance of the peace agreement plan in the current panorama of deforestation. To be precise, it was considered a solution to illicit crops creating a National Comprehensive Program of illicit crops by undertaking schemes on voluntary high valued crop substitution and a comprehensive rural reform. Then again, the decreasing production of illegal coca and the criminal business moving toward the illegal mining is not evaluated. What its worse, even in a post-conflict scenario, the government fails at its endless carnival of environmental licenses granted under Uribe’s administration-many of those licenses will remain in force for more than 20 years.

A Path Forward The future outlook will be challenging in a country where guerrillas and large landowners still maintains control of illegal mining. After NO vote and rejection of FARC peace deal, an opportunity to establish a new management program of land use was missed given the agrarian origin of the conflict. As a result, Santos comes across a new stumbling block on his career to accomplish the uncertain climate commitment which require itself costly institutional transformations.


“I am passionate about issues related to public-private partnerships, sustainable development, foreign policy, innovation and environmental geograph” Written by Rosaura Serrano Rodríguez



1 Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environmental Studies of Colombia

2 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions: It identifies the actions a national government intends to take under the Paris Agreement agreed in December 2015 at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21)

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