Colombia: Deforestation now lowest in 23 years

Deforestation in Colombia dropped significantly in 2023 to its lowest point in 23 years, according to the environment ministry. Official data shows that forest loss decreased from 1,235 sq km in 2022 to 792 sq km in 2023, marking a 36% reduction. The majority of these environmental improvements occurred in the Amazon rainforest, where the Colombian government has been focusing its conservation efforts.

“This year is truly iconic in our fight against deforestation,” Susana Muhamad, Colombia’s environment minister, said in Bogotá. Deforestation in Colombia had peaked in 2017 after the demobilization of the Farc, the country’s largest guerrilla group, which created a power vacuum in the forests. However, under President Gustavo Petro’s administration, the first leftist government in Colombia’s history, the rampant deforestation has been curbed and reversed.

The Petro administration has prioritized conserving the Amazon by increasing surveillance and launching new sustainable projects, also advocating for wealthy nations to cancel foreign debt in exchange for efforts to slow climate change. Major achievements in forest protection include agreements to pay farmers for land conservation and negotiations with armed groups that control key deforestation areas.

“We have found a direct link between peace and reduced deforestation. Peaceful conditions lead to lower deforestation rates,” Muhamad stated. Last year was the second consecutive year of declining deforestation in Colombia, with official figures indicating a 54% decrease in forest loss from 2021 to 2023, far surpassing the national target of 20%.

Colombia, the world’s second most biodiverse country, aims to become a global leader in combating climate change and will host the Cop16 biodiversity conference in Cali this year. However, Muhamad noted that 2024’s deforestation figures are not expected to be as positive due to the El Niño phenomenon, which brings hotter and drier conditions to the Amazon and has increased deforestation this year.

Experts are also concerned about the breakdown of negotiations with the Central General Staff (EMC), a key rebel group controlling large areas of the rainforest. In November, the EMC reversed its policy of prohibiting deforestation, now permitting and even encouraging it.

“This will be evident in this year’s deforestation figures, as the EMC has been restricting state officials’ access to forests and pressuring local communities to cut down trees,” said Angelica Rojas, a liaison officer for the Guaviare department at the Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development (FCDS), a Colombian environmental think tank.

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