By Chris Lang
“The greatest issue, or challenge, of our time is climate change,” Iván Duque, president of Colombia, said in Davos at the 2020 World Economic Forum. “So if we really want to as a society be able to contain the effects of climate change, we need to protect the tropical forests.”
In a recent paper in the Journal of Political Ecology Torsten Krause of Lund University takes a close look at Colombia’s efforts to reduce deforestation in recent years. Krause writes that while Duque’s comment in Davos, “pays lip-service to environmental protection, the economic policies pursued by Colombia tell a different story”. In official government documents such as the national development plan, the drivers of deforestation, the oil and mining industry, industrial agriculture and infrastructure, are described as “locomotives of development”.
“REDD+ sidesteps the complex, structural drivers of deforestation while serving to attract international finance,” Krause writes.
Krause’s paper is titled, “Reducing deforestation in Colombia while building peace and pursuing business as usual extractivism?”, and it is part of a Special Section on REDD+, edited by Adeniyi Asiyanbi and Jens Friis Lund. Last week, REDD-Monitor looked at Asiyanbi and Lund’s paper about why REDD+ persists, despite its dismal track-record.
Krause starts his paper by noting that several scholars, “have critiqued the fundamental basis of REDD+ as an established offspring of neoliberal environmental governance that uses market-based mechanisms and carbon offsets as solutions to deforestation”. These critics see REDD+ as an attempt to “ameliorate the effects of continued consumption in the global North”.
Krause writes that,
To date there is little evidence that REDD+ has actually reduced or will reduce deforestation and degradation of forests across the world. A major shortcoming of the initiative is that the different approaches and tools under the REDD+ umbrella rarely target the actual drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, which are mainly found in the dynamics of the global political economy and the processes that characterize globalization, for instance international trade and industrial production of agricultural products.
Krause’s paper focusses on the co-existence of REDD+ and extractivist development in Colombia in the context of the peace process following the agreement signed in 2016 between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia – People’s Army (FARC-EP).
Drivers of deforestation
Deforestation has increased since the signing of the peace agreement. Krause puts this down to land-grabbing in former FARC strongholds in the north-western parts of the Amazon region, and the government’s promotion of extractivist development.
“The deployment of REDD+,” Krause writes, “having little traction on the ground, appears to legitimize the status quo and does little to reduce deforestation.”
Krause notes that oil palm plantations and cattle ranching are two growing drivers of deforestation in Colombia. Colombia is the largest producer of palm oil in Latin America. Oil palm plantations are mostly established on former pasture lands, and is therefore an indirect contributor to deforestation in Colombia.
Cattle ranching is a major land use, and a direct driver of deforestation. More than half of Colombia’s agricultural land is cattle pastures. In 2018, the stock of cattle grew by 11% over the previous year.
In 2010, the World Bank approved a US$27.7 million “Mainstreaming Sustainable Cattle Ranching” project, funded by the Global Environment Facility (US$7 million) and the UK (US$20 million). The project is carried out by the National Cattle Ranching Association together with The Nature Conservancy. The project includes a carbon payment for ecosystem services scheme.
“However,” Krause writes,
it remains questionable whether conventional agricultural models focusing on intensifying land use and production, even if combined with silvopastoral practices, can lead to reduced deforestation. In Colombia’s post-conflict context, territorial control is highly disputed and deforestation is largely caused by structures and powers that seek to expand their land holdings, rather than by inefficient production.
Coca growing is also a driver of deforestation in Colombia. The area for coca production has increased, from 78,000 hectares in 2012, to about 209,000 in 2017.
Mining is another important driver of deforestation in Colombia. In 2017, there were almost 9,000 active mining titles, covering a total of almost 4% of the country. More than 100 mining firms have acquired titles in Colombia to explore for coal and metals, in particular gold. The vast majority of gold mining in Colombia is illegal and causes substantial pollution, has serious health impacts, and drives insecurity and violence. Colombia’s 2018-2022 national development plan aims to expand mining, and to double foreign direct investment.
REDD in Colombia
Colombia is involved in the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and the UN-REDD programme. In 2011, REDD+ was included in the national development plan. A national REDD+ strategy was completed in the same year.
According to the International Datatbase on REDD+ projects and programmes, there are 25 REDD+ projects registered in Colombia (excluding afforestation and reforestation projects). Of these, Krause writes, only 10 have been registered, verified and validated under the Community, Climate and Biodiversity standards. Of these ten projects, seven were implemented under the BIOREDD+ programme, with funding from USAID (a total of US$27.8 million between 2011 and 2014).
In 2015, the Colombian Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development launched the Visión Amazonía programme. This REDD+ programme is part of a US$5 billion REDD+ programme that was announced at COP 21 in Paris, funded by Germany, Norway, and the UK (the GNU countries). Visión Amazonía’s website states that, “The period of time contemplated by the program is from 2016 to 2020, the year in which the goal of zero deforestation is sought.”
But as Krause notes, Visión Amazonía has “made little progress in terms of reducing deforestation or changing the drivers of deforestation and land grabbing in the Amazon region”.
In 2019, the GNU countries withdrew US$15 million from the total of US$100 million funding for Visión Amazonía, “because deforestation rates increased and did not meet emission reduction targets,” Krause writes.
Some Visión Amazonía funding goes to projects in Indigenous communities. In 2018, Visión Amazonía financed ten projects with a total of US$5.2 million, and in 2019, a further ten projects were approved with a total of US$6 million. The projects are aimed at strengthening territorial planning, environmental governance, livelihood plans, comprehensive protection of sacred sites, food autonomy, and empowerment of women.
Criticism of Visión Amazonía
The Organisation of Indigenous groups of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC) was the main representative of Indigenous Peoples in Visión Amazonía. But leaders of Indigenous communities in the central Amazon are critical of Visión Amazonía. Indigenous Peoples were not involved in the design of Visión Amazonía. In 2017, leaders of four Indigenous groups travelled to Bogota to meet with the National Land Agency, the embassies of the GNU countries, and officials of the Ministry of Environment.
Muinane chief Eduardo Paki told El Espectador that, “the curious thing is that today the world is looking at the jungle, but does not see that we are there.”
“Many Indigenous communities oppose the contradictory logic of the state pursuing both REDD+ and extractivism on their lands”, Krause writes and adds that, “they perceive REDD+ and Visión Amazonía as false promises”.
Krause writes that,
Many of the actors who work with conservation initiatives in the region see Visión Amazonía as something of a paradox, being on the one hand well-funded, and on the other hand rather absent at the local level. Visión Amazonía’s major challenge is to reduce deforestation in the context of Colombia’s complex post-conflict reality. Multiple factors interlock, for instance land grabbing, illicit crop production, and governmental economic development policies that directly drive deforestation, but which are outside Visión Amazonía’s scope.
Despite President Duque’s nice words in Davos about protecting forests, his government has said that it will aim for a deforestation rate of 220,000 hectares per year for the next four years. Krause writes that,
The extractive imperative that the Colombian state pursues might turn out to be a Faustian bargain where the achievement of socioeconomic development at the national level is carried out at the cost of local communities and the environment…. The current expansion of intensive land use (e.g., oil palm) and extensive cattle ranching and mining which is supported by governmental policies must be revised. This requires a shift away from large scale agriculture and natural resources extraction. Peace and social justice cannot be built at the cost of furthering environmental injustices and inequalities….
So far, REDD+ and Visión Amazonía has not addressed the Colombian reality of unequal and often uncertain land ownership, the violence associated with control over land and resources, and the resulting friction between diverse stakeholder groups and Indigenous peoples who have different interests and visions. Reducing deforestation and forest degradation in Colombia is ultimately a matter of struggle over control of the country’s vast rural territories and resources, that were the stage for the armed conflict and continue to be at the center of it.
This is the first in a series of posts on REDD-Monitor looking at REDD and environmental injustice in the Andes Amazon. A Spanish translation of this post is available here.
PHOTO Credit: Chiribiquete National Park – Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project, June 2019.