New Colombian president commits to protect the rainforest | business news

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s first elected leftist president, will take office in August with ambitious proposals to halt record deforestation rates in the Amazon rainforest. Petro has promised to limit the expansion of agribusiness into the forest and create reserves where indigenous communities and others can harvest rubber, acai and other non-timber forest products. He has also promised revenue from carbon credits to finance the replanting.

“From Colombia we will give humanity a reward, a remedy, a solution: not to burn the Amazon rainforest anymore, to recover it to its natural border, to give humanity the possibility of life on this planet,” Petro said, wearing an indigenous costume. . touched, he told a crowd in the Amazon city of Leticia during his campaign.

But to do that, he first needs to establish a reign over large lawless areas.

The task of stopping deforestation seems more challenging than ever. In 2021, the Colombian Amazon lost 98,000 hectares (over 240,000 acres) of virgin forest to deforestation and another 9,000 hectares (22,000 acres) to fire. Both were down from what they had been in 2020, but 2021 was still the fourth worst year on record according to the Andean Amazon Monitoring Project (MAAP), an initiative of the nonprofit Amazon Conservation Association.

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More than 40% of Colombia is in the Amazon, an area roughly the size of Spain. The country has the largest bird biodiversity in the world, mainly because it includes transition zones between the Andes mountains and the Amazon lowlands. Fifteen percent of the Colombian Amazon has already been deforested, according to the Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development, FCDS.

The destruction of the jungle has been on the rise since 2016, the year Colombia signed a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, ending decades of bloody armed conflict.

“The peace process allowed people to return to rural areas previously ravaged by conflict. As the returning population increasingly used natural resources, it contributed to deforestation and increased wildfires, especially in the Amazon and Andes-Amazon transition regions,” according to a new journal article ” Environmental Science and Policy”.

The presence of the State is barely felt in the Colombian Amazon. “Once the armed groups demobilized, they left the forest free for ranching, illegal mining and drug trafficking,” said Ruth Consuelo Chaparro, director of the Fundación Caminos a la Identidad, in a telephone interview. “The state has not filled the gaps.”

The main driver of deforestation has been the expansion of cattle ranching. Since 2016, the number of cattle in the Amazon has doubled to 2.2 million. In the same period, some 500,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) of forest were lost, according to FCDS, based on official data.

This cattle expansion goes hand in hand with the illegal expropriation of land, said the director of the FCDS, Rodrigo Botero. “The big business is land. The cows are just a way of taking over these territories,” he told the AP in a telephone interview.

Experts say that illegally confiscated land is often resold to ranchers, who then manage their cattle without land use restrictions such as property size.

Most of the destruction occurs in a “deforestation arc” in the northwestern Colombian Amazon, where not even protected areas have been spared. Chiribiquete, the world’s largest national park protecting a rainforest, has lost about 6,000 hectares (14,800 acres) since 2018, according to MAAP.

During the campaign, Botero took Petro and other presidential candidates on separate day trips to the Amazon. They flew over livestock areas, national parks and indigenous territories.

“One very interesting thing that Petro and other candidates said is that they never imagined the magnitude of the destruction.” The feeling of ungovernability deeply impressed each of them, Botero said.

Almost 60% of Colombia’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, deforestation and other land uses, according to the World Resources Institute. In 2020, under the Paris Agreement, the government of Colombian President Iván Duque committed to a 51% reduction in emissions by 2030. To do this, he committed to achieving zero net deforestation by 2030.

The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and a huge carbon sink. There is widespread concern that their destruction will not only release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, further complicating hopes of halting climate change, but also push it past a tipping point after which much of the forest will begin an irreversible process of degradation in tropical. bed sheet.

Although it occupies almost half of the national territory, the Amazon is the least populated part of Colombia, which is why it is historically neglected during presidential campaigns.

This year’s campaign was not a complete departure from that. But this year, for the first time, there was a televised presidential debate devoted exclusively to environmental issues before the first round of elections. Petro, then leading in the polls, refused to participate.

In his government program, Petro also promises to prioritize collective land titles, such as indigenous reserves and areas for landless farmers. It also promises to control migration to the Amazon, combat illegal activities, such as land seizures, drug trafficking and money laundering through land purchases.

Petro’s press manager did not respond to requests for comment.

“Petro has studied and understands deforestation,” said Consuelo Chaparro, whose organization works with indigenous tribes in the Amazon. But the president alone can’t do anything, she said. His hope is that he listens to her and moves things forward. “We don’t expect him to be a Messiah.”

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