Colombia is a country of forests. Fifty-two percent – almost 60 million hectares – if Colombia is covered in forest, while the country rates second in the world – after Brazil – for biodiversity. Ethnic groups have inhabited these forests for thousands of years, preserving their ancestral cultures. More than half of the country's natural forests are found in their territories.
However, deforestation has been increasing. Between 1990 and 2016, more than 6 million hectares of natural forests were lost. In 2016 alone, about 180,000 hectares of forest disappeared – a 44 percent increase in deforestation compared to the previous year. Among the main causes are the conversion of forests to pasture areas for livestock, illicit crops, extensive cattle ranching, forest fires, illegal extraction of minerals and illegal logging.
Reducing deforestation is one of the main challenges facing Colombia today. It is directly related to the historical causes of the armed conflict, as deforestation often coincides with post-conflict zones and with territories where the presence of the State has been minimal.
But Colombia today has "Forests - Territories of Life," the Integral Strategy for Control of Deforestation and Forest Management of Colombia. This is a fundamental tool that has engaged a broad spectrum of stakeholders in dialogue related to forest governance. This dialogue has included ethnic and local communities, government, private sector, academia, institutions, non-governmental organisations and civil society.
"Forests - Territories of Life" is a goal achieved thanks to several years of work under the leadership of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development. The support of the United Nations, with technical assistance of FAO, UNDP and UN Environment, in the framework of the implementation of the UN-REDD Programme in Colombia, was paramount in the last three years to build a strategy that today serves as a tool to generate an implementation plan in the country.
The UN-REDD Programme supported us by building bridges to establish meaningful dialogue between indigenous, Afro-descendant and local communities from all regions of the country. As a result of this work, we have received recommendations from the people who live and depend directly on these forest ecosystems. We now have a better understanding of their relationship with the jungle, the mountains and the forest, and this has allowed us to expand our vision to protect Colombia’s forests.
Another result of this Programme has been to establish a route to implement the social and environmental safeguards that countries are committed to address within the framework of REDD+ in order to guarantee respect and support to all communities that live in and depend on forests.
In addition, our Forest and Carbon Monitoring System was strengthened together with the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM). This institute has the capacity to present timely and reliable information related to our forests to our country as well as to the world.
Together with the World Bank, the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, Fondo Acción, the REDD+ Forest and Climate Protection Programme implemented by the German Development Cooperation (GIZ), and the FAO - FLEGT Programme of the European Union, we achieved better coordination, and that has allowed my Ministry to fulfill its national and international commitments related to the reduction of deforestation and forest degradation, while making the management of forests an axis of sustainable development in Colombia.
For Colombia, the support of the UN-REDD Programme was essential as it built bridges between different people and communities. This has allowed us to create new strategies to face deforestation and develop a sustainable management plan for our forests.