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Deforestation in Colombia fell to historic low in 2023: How did they achieve the drop?

Indigenous demonstrators join a protest outside the Brazilian embassy to call on Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro to act to protect the Amazon rainforest, in Bogota, Colombia
Indigenous demonstrators join a protest outside the Brazilian embassy to call on Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro to act to protect the Amazon rainforest, in Bogota, Colombia Copyright AP Photo/Ivan Valencia, File
Copyright AP Photo/Ivan Valencia, File
By Steven Grattan with AP
Published on Updated
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President Gustavo Petro is coming good on his election promise to cut tree felling.

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Deforestation in Colombia fell by 36% in a year, marking a new record low.

It's especially good news the world's largest rainforest, the Amazon, one-third of which is in Colombia. The Amazon is a crucial carbon sink meaning it sucks up carbon emissions that would otherwise contribute to global warming.

The drop happened between 2022 and 2023 and comes off the back of years of campaigning by Indigenous activists who depend on the Amazon for their homes and livelihood.

The decrease “means that 44,262 hectares of forest stopped being cut down,” Colombian Environment Minister Susana Muhamad told journalists. “It is very good news, but we definitely cannot say that the battle is won. We continue to confront illicit economies."

The data was released as Colombia ramps up to host the COP16 United Nations biodiversity summit in the southwestern city of Cali in October.

How did Colombia achieve record low deforestation?

When elected in 2022, President Gustavo Petro vowed to halt record high rates of deforestation in the Amazon by limiting agribusiness expansion into the forest and creating reserves where Indigenous communities and others are allowed to harvest rubber, acai and other non-timber forest products.

Advancing peace talks between the government and guerrilla groups in the area, along with financial incentives for farmers in the Amazon to help with conservation, drove the drop. It came after deforestation had fallen about 29% in 2022.

Environmental experts over past years have said the decrease in deforestation was also likely tied to orders from dissident groups of FARC guerrillas forbidding deforestation.

What does Colombia need to do to keep deforestation down?

Minister Muhamad said the strong presence of government armed forces in guerrilla-controlled areas, as well as progress made with peace talks, will be key to maintaining a downward trend.

But next year's figures don't look as promising. A significant rise in deforestation has already been recorded due to the effects of dry weather caused by El Niño, Muhamad said, a weather phenomenon that warms the central Pacific.

Mass cattle ranching, drug crops and illegal mining and logging continue to drive deforestation in the Andean nation, Muhamad said.

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