Colombia Takes Action to Protect the Amazon Rainforest
On April 5, the Supreme Court of Colombia made a historical move by recognizing Colombia’s share of the Amazon Rainforest as an “entity subject of rights,” signifying that the rainforest possesses the same rights as a human being.
Colombia, like much of Latin America has witnessed steep declines in tropical forests for decades at the expense of agricultural land expansion. In 2016, Colombia deforestation rate jumped to an alarming 44 percent. Forests are being cleared in order to make room for more agricultural activities like the grazing of livestock, coca production (the raw ingredient in cocaine), and illegal mining and logging.
The Supreme Court has ordered both the national and local governments, as well as environment and agricultural ministries and environmental authorities, to create a procedure to fight deforestation.
Colombia is the second most biodiverse nation in the world, only behind Brazil, and is home to one of every 10 species of flora and fauna in the world. The Amazon rainforest in Colombia covers approximately 35 percent of the country’s territory, playing a crucial role in oxygen production, stabilizing the world’s climate and maintaining the water cycle.
Although the Colombian government is a signator of the Paris Climate Accords, Colombia has done little since the treaty to take measures against climate change.
The Supreme Court had addressed its disappointment with the government stating that, “it is clear, despite numerous international commitments, regulations … that the Colombian state has not efficiently addressed the problem of deforestation in the Amazon.”
Most of the deforestation in Colombia has taken place in remote jungle areas that the leftist movement, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), once controlled. Soon after the government’s peace deal to close the 52-year-long war with the rebel group, criminal groups moved in to the demobilized lands to promote illegal logging, mining and cattle ranching.
The environmental issue gained publicity after a cohort made up of 25 young plaintiffs, sued the Colombian government for failing to protect their right to life, health, food and water.
Dejusticia, a human right organization, noted that the court ruling is historic, being the first of its kind in Latin America.
Colombia is set to receive about $3.5 million in aid from Norway over the next two years as part of a “pilot project that hopes to stem deforestation by offering paid jobs to former Farc fighters and communities to safeguard forests by tracking and reporting illegal logging.”
Meanwhile, Colombia’s fellow neighbors are moving in the opposite direction.
Brazil’s Supreme Court has recently loosened its laws on the protection of the Amazon Rainforest by reducing penalties for illegal deforestation and reducing the amount of deforested land that must be restored.
According to Grace Mendoca, Brazil’s attorney general, these revisions are constitutional and aim to create a balance between environmental protection and economic development.
This year, Peru approved a new law to cut down trees in the Ucayali region of the Amazon in order to build new roads. El Peruano, the country’s official daily newspaper, confirms that the plan is in line with Peru’s “priorities and national interest.”
The legislation came hours before Pope Francis decried the destruction of the Amazon rainforest during his official visit to Peru. “We must break with the historical paradigm that sees the Amazon as an inexhaustible larder for other countries without taking into account its inhabitants,” said Francis.
The government of Peru views the project as a positive step forward as the road will grant access to untouched parts of the forest.
The Amazon Rainforest is crucial to our planet and high rates of deforestation are jeopardizing not only an entire ecosystem, but also the people who live within it. Removing a mass amount of trees destroys the forest canopy that blocks out sun rays during the day, while holding in heat during the night. Without the protection of the forest canopy, the rainforest experiences temperature swings and can no longer absorb greenhouse gases.
According to Scientific American, deforestation adds more atmospheric carbon dioxide than all of the cars and trucks in the world. When trees are cut down, they release their stored carbon into the atmosphere where it combines with greenhouse gases to boost global warming.