Colombia deforestation fell to historic low last year

Colombia deforestation fell to historic low last year

Drop in deforestation comes amid efforts to protect critical Amazon rainforest after years of record destruction.

Deforestation in Colombia fell by 36 percent in 2023 compared to the previous year, the country’s environment ministry said, as President Gustavo Petro’s government works to halt record-breaking destruction in the Amazon.

In a statement on Monday, the Environment Ministry said deforestation fell to just over 792 square kilometres (305 square miles) across Colombia last year, down from around 1,235sq km (477sq miles) in 2022.

“It is very good news, but we definitely cannot say that the battle is won. We continue to confront illicit economies,” Environment Minister Susana Muhamad told reporters in the capital, Bogota.

In Colombia’s Amazon region specifically – traditionally the driver of the national figure – deforestation declined 38 percent to around 443sq km (171 square miles), down from close to 712sq km (275 square miles) in 2022.

When he was elected in 2022, Petro promised to prioritise environmental protection and halt Amazon deforestation by limiting agribusiness expansion into the rainforest, among other measures.

The left-wing leader also has called on rich nations to cancel foreign debt in exchange for conserving areas such as the Amazon, whose destruction scientists say could worsen the global climate crisis.

A deforested area in Colombia
A deforested area in Putumayo, Colombia, in 2023 [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

Advancing peace talks between the government and armed groups in the area, along with financial incentives for farmers in the Amazon to help with conservation, drove the drop in deforestation last year – a 23-year low.

It came after deforestation had fallen about 29 percent in 2022.

Environmental experts have said the decrease in deforestation was also likely tied to orders from dissident groups of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) fighters forbidding deforestation.

Muhamad, the environment minister, said on Monday that the strong presence of government armed forces in these areas as well as progress made with peace talks will be key to maintaining a downward trend.

Yet despite the drop, Muhamad in April warned that deforestation had increased in 2024 amid dry conditions exacerbated by a strong El Nino weather phenomenon.

In August 2023, Colombia was one of several South American countries that agreed to launch an alliance to protect the Amazon.

Alongside Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela, the country signed a joint declaration laying out a nearly 10,000-word roadmap to promote sustainable development, end deforestation and fight the organised crime that fuels it.

Colombia will host the COP16 United Nations biodiversity summit in the city of Cali later this year.

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