The Republic of Colombia is the 4th largest country in South America with 1.14 million km2(approximately twice the size of France). It is a middle-income country, with a population of approximately 45m people (DANE 2005) and an estimated GDP in 2012 of US$365.4bn, growing at 4% per year (CIA 2013).
According to Colombia’s most recent inventory of GHG in 2004, it produces 180,000 Gt Co2e per year (GOC 2010). Energy generation in Colombia is predominantly hydroelectric, so the sectors that contribute the greatest proportion of GHG are agriculture 38%; energy 37%; land-use, land-use change and forestry - LULUCF 14.5%. Solid waste and industrial processes contribute a further 6% and 5% respectively. The Colombian Strategy for Low Carbon Development therefore focuses on agriculture and land use change and forestry.
Government recognizes 102 different indigenous groups totalling 1.38 million people. These are the collective owners of 710 reserves, making up 30m Ha or 29.8% of the area of the country. Colombia also has a large Afro-Colombian population (4.26 million), descendants of people brought to Colombia as slaves from the 1530s onwards. Afro-Colombians make up 90% of the population on the Pacific coast (population data from 2005 census). 149 Afro-Colombian communities have collective titles over land, totalling 5.13 million hectares (MADS 2013a). [<--break->] Forestry
Colombia defines forest as an area greater than 1.0 hectare, with a tree crown closure of more than 30% in sites with trees that have the potential to reach a minimum height of 5m at maturity in situ (IDEAM 2011). Colombia calls this “Natural Forest’, which excludes plantations and young regrowth.
According to IDEAM, in 2010 natural forest covered 58.64 million Ha or 51.4% of the land area. 67.3% of this is in the Amazon, 17.1% in the Andean region, 9.4% in the Pacific region, 3.5% in the Orinoco and 2.7% in the Caribbean (IDEAM 2011).
Deforestation has been concentrated in the Amazon and Andean regions, though in relative terms the Caribbean has been the worst affected, losing over 20% of its natural forest between 2000 and 2010 (IDEAM 2011) and only 2% of the forest it had 100 years ago remains. Certain ecosystems have also suffered more than others; it is estimated that 95% of Colombia’s dry forests have been degraded, including 70% of Andean dry forests (CBD 2013).
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 2010 Colombia had 60.49 million Ha of forest, covering 55% of its land area (FAO 2010). FAO reports a constant rate of deforestation between 1990 and 2010 of 101,000 Ha or 0.17% per year because changes in methodology complicate comparisons between periods.
The agency producing the official forestry figures for Colombia is the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (Instituto de Hidrología, Meteorología y Estudios Ambientales; IDEAM). It recommends using a constant figure for deforestation between 1990 and 2010, because between 1990 and 2010 forest cover was only measured every five years, meaning that annual peaks and troughs are not visible and the five-yearly figures could be misleading. IDEAM (on behalf of the Colombian government) reports a substantially higher figure than FAO of 310,349 Ha or 0.48% per year, which represents the average annualised figure over the same 20-year period (IDEAM 2011).
IDEAM’s figures for the two previous five-year periods are: 314,991 Ha/year between 2000 and 2005 and 238,273 Ha/year between 2005 and 2010 (IDEAM 2011). As part of its REDD+ readiness, IDEAM is now moving to bi-yearly forest measurement and is currently (July 2013) finishing its figures for 2012. Though these are not final, preliminary indications are that annual deforestation between 2010 and 2012 will be similar to that between 2005 and 2010.
According to Terra-i and O-Eco’s InfoAmazonia team, deforestation in the department of Caqueta in Colombia increased by 192% in 2012, the biggest percentage increase in the entire Amazon region (O-Eco 2013).
Agricultural and livestock frontier: According to the National Geographical Institute (Instituto Geográfico Agustín Codazzi; IGAC) (cited in FEDEGAN 2006), Colombia has 38.6m Ha dedicated to cattle rearing (of which just 5m Ha are improved pasture) compared to just 4.9m Ha dedicated to agriculture and forest products combined. This is reflected in the end-use of deforested land; between 2005 and 2010, 57% of the deforested area was converted to grassland and only 10% to agriculture (MADS 2013a).
The National Cattle-ranchers association (Federación de Ganaderos; FEDEGAN), has given itself the target of reducing the area dedicated to cattle by 10m Ha by 2019, while increasing the overall number of cattle. GEF and the UK government are financing a forest-grazing project aimed at proving techniques and building national capacities to enable this transition.
Colombia is already Latin America’s biggest producer of palm oil, with over 427,000 Ha under cultivation in 2011, up from 170,000 Ha in 2000 and is on track to meet the National Oil Palm Growers Association (Federación Nacional de Cultivadores de Palma de Aceite; FEDEPALMA) target of reaching 743,000 Ha by 2020 (FEDEPALMA 2013). Palm is the crop that is being planted most in Colombia’s savannahs (based on OECD/FAO 2012). This is partly driven by strong domestic demand; by law 10% of liquid fuel for land transport must be biofuels, rising to 20% by 2020 (GLOBE 2012).
Illicit crops: In 2011, the area dedicated to illegal coca cultivation (64,000 Ha) was less than half what it was in 2001, but very slightly more than in 2010 (UNODC 2011). Between 2010 and 2011, 23,000 Ha were deforested to plant coca (UNODC 2011). It has had a significant cumulative environmental impact. Between 2001 and 2011 583,926 Ha have at some point been used for illicit coca cultivation, of which 245,382 Ha were originally forest. It is estimated that each hectare of coca requires the destruction of 2.5 Ha of the local ecosystem; coca could therefore have resulted in over 0.6m Ha of deforestation in ten years.
The government has a programme of eradication of coca cultivation, both manually and by the aerial spraying of herbicide (Glyphosate). An unintended consequence of this has been to help drive the expansion of the agricultural frontier; coca cultivation is pushed further into forest areas, leaving deforested smallholdings that are consolidated by a second wave of colonists into pastures for cattle. In remote areas cattle is often also the only profitable alternative for peasants looking to move away from coca growing. It has been estimated that for every hectare of forest sprayed, another is lost due to herbicide drift and another due to additional clearing to replace the destroyed coca (Hansen 2000).
Mining: Colombia is very rich in sub-soil mineral resources, which according to the Constitution of 1991 (art 332) belong to the State. Subject to a permit, environmental impact assessment and consultation with indigenous and/or afro-Colombian groups (where relevant), mining is permitted in all areas other than National Natural Parks. With few exceptions, mainly in the North of the country (notably the Cerrejón coal mine and the Cerro Matoso Ferronickel mine), mining in Colombia remains small-scale. The line between this artisanal mining (tolerated by the government) and medium and large-scale illegal mining (which the government has promised to battle), is unclear; a situation that is exploited by unscrupulous operators. Both, particularly for gold, are a significant driver of deforestation, especially in the Pacific.
Colombia declares itself to be a “mining country” (UPME 2006) and in a bid to kickstart the industrial mining sector, Resolution 45 of 2012 declared five areas of the country as strategic mining areas. These include 17m Ha of the Amazon and Chocó (SOTO 2012), excluding areas of National Parks, alpine tundra (páramos) and Ramsar wetlands but including indigenous reserves (resguardos indígenas) and Forest Reserve Areas (Zonas de Reserva Forestal). To help mitigate the risk in the short term that this will lead to a mining boom in valuable ecosystems, the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (Ministerio de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible; MADS) issued decree 1374 of June 2013 (also signed by the Ministry of Mines and Energy) giving itself the authority to declare Temporary Natural Resource Reserves. By Resolution 0705 issued the next day, it declared four such reserves. These will protect approximately 5m ha of forest for one year, while longer-term decisions are taken on protected area status and land use restrictions.
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