In a year when unprecedented numbers of fires have destroyed thousands of hectares of rainforest in the Amazon Basin, Colombian President Ivan Duque pointed to global warming as the primary culprit behind the devastation. “Before we go talking about the Amazon, before we get to talking about the tropical forest, let’s look into the major problem which has to do with climate change and its major effects,” he said.
“The Amazon has been affected seriously by climate change. The dry seasons are longer. The rains take longer to come. So the dry seasons are facing more fires. But besides that, we also face different kinds of enemies,” he said, noting that the illegal expansion of the agricultural frontier, as well as illegal cattle ranching, logging and mining, all have contributed to the destruction of the Amazon. Coca, too, is a major contributor, Duque said. “People don’t realize that to plant one hectare of coca, two hectares of forest have to be destroyed.”
Duque noted that Colombia – 35%-40% of which is in the Amazon Basin – has “put natural resources at the cornerstone of our national security agenda to protect its natural endowments and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He said the country has” launched the nation’s first dedicated Anti-Deforestation Commission and aggressively pursued illegal ranchers and others who unlawfully encroach on the Amazon. “Whenever you decide to do something against nature, you will be chased. You will be brought to justice,” he added.
Duque said that, in a single year, deforestation was reduced in Colombia by 17%. He stressed that along with the stick his administration has also employed the carrot. “We’re trying to approach the indigenous communities… and tell them to switch to activities that are safe and reward them for environmental service. So they become forest protectors, forest guards. They become bio-tourism promoters. They work for some of the centres where we study the Amazon and I think that’s the right approach.”
He said his administration has set a goal in its National Development Plan of reducing deforestation by 30% in his four-year term: “But I consider that every day we have to go for more.”
Speaking about the fires, numbering in the tens of thousands, that have broken out in the Amazon during this year’s dry season, Duque said: “We cannot politicize the fires. The fires happened in Brazil this year, but it also happened in Bolivia and we supported Bolivia. We haven’t had a fire in Colombia, but we could.”
He highlighted the Leticia Pact, signed by Columbia earlier this month with Amazon nations Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Guyana and Suriname to coordinate action to preserve and reforest the Amazon, noting that, for its part, Colombia has announced an aggressive goal of planting 180 million trees by 2022.
Duque also announced an agreement reached on Monday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly with eight regional countries to achieve an ambitious target of 70% renewable energy in the regional energy mix by 2030. Colombia, he said, will focus on electric vehicles for transport and mobility, and is pushing through a raft of tax incentives and subsidies to stimulate green transport. “We’re taking it seriously, and I decided myself to set an example,” said Duque. “I just bought an electric motorcycle.”