Colombia is the South American country with the third largest extent of natural forests. The coverage of natural forests was about 59,312,277 ha (52% of the country’s area) in 2016. Forests occur in all the five main biogeographical or natural regions of the country but are found in greater proportion in the Amazon and Andean regions (66.9% and 17.8% respectively), followed by the Pacific, Orinoquía, and Caribe regions (8.8%, 3.6% and 2.9% respectively).
The Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) implemented a Forest and Carbon Monitoring System (SMByC) in 2012 for monitoring Colombian forests through the National Forest Inventory (NFI). Forests have been inventoried since 2015, excluding commercial forest and oil palm plantations, and trees planted for agricultural production. Colombia had 59.7 million ha covered by natural forest in 2020 (52.3% of the continental territory); 66% of these forests are located in the Colombian Amazon.
Colombia lost 1.66 Mha of primary humid forest between 2002 and 2020, that amounted to 38% of the total loss of tree cover in that period. The total area covered by primary humid forest in Colombia was thus reduced by 3.0%.
Colombia lost 171,685 ha of forests only in 2020; 70% of this deforestation was concentrated in five departments: Meta, Caqueta, Guaviare, Putumayo, and Antioquía. The Amazon region experienced the greatest increase in deforested area. Deforestation has increased by about 11,000 ha since 2019.
The main direct causes of deforestation in the country are the expansion of the agricultural frontier, illegal extraction of minerals, infrastructure expansion, logging and fires. The drivers of deforestation have changed over time; the 90's were characterised by the progressive expansion of illegal crops, mainly in the Amazon and the Pacific regions. Pasture expansion increased also in the Amazon, associated with livestock and land titling processes. Improvements in monitoring of illicit crops led to the fall of coca production in the 2000s. The impact of these crops on forests decreased while other causes of deforestation, such as agro-industrial production systems, increased in the Orinoquía, Caribbean, and Andean region. The growth of agribusiness is linked to oil palm; palm crops reached 337 thousand hectares in 2008, 400 thousand hectares in 2010, and 466 thousand hectares by 2015. More recent information shows that the crop reached about 550 thousand hectares in 2018, distributed in 24 departments, 122 municipalities and 64 palm nuclei located in the North, East, Southwest, and Central regions . Activities such as mineral extraction, mainly gold mining, together with the expansion of coca cultivation have become important drivers of deforestation during the last five years.
The main underlying causes of deforestation include social, cultural, and economic elements (markets, illegal economies related to mineral extraction, wildlife, and illegal crops, state incentives, technologies, costs and patterns of production and consumption); political and institutional elements (policies, institutional presence and social conditions, distribution and land property rights, and armed conflict and post-conflict); cultural variables (ancestral practices, increasing consumption of commodities, and education); forest fires (extensive livestock farming); and demographic factors (population growth, migration).
Key policies and governance approach
The preparation process for the implementation of the REDD project began in 2009, when progress was made in designing and commissioning the Forest and Carbon Monitoring System (SMByC) by IDEAM. Participation and dissemination processes were carried out between 2010 and 2013.
Colombia received support from international donors (Forest and Climate Protection Program / REDD+ of the GIZ, the UN-REDD Programme, the FCPF’s REDD+ Readiness Support Program, and the BioCarbon Fund) in 2013. In this phase, the Reference Level of Forest Emissions (NREF) for the Amazon Biome was estimated, which also helped to identify the gaps and challenges that have to be met to establish the National NREF for 2018, and the improvements that the SMByC have to make for the Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) system. Colombia also established the National Safeguards System in this phase.
Implementation began in 2012, with the consolidation of IDEAM's SMByC, which allows detecting changes in forest cover through satellite imagery analyses, estimating carbon contents of each forest type, and identifying the main causes and drivers of forest loss and degradation. SMByC also supplies basic information for estimating the Forest Reference Emission Level.
The first National Forest Inventory (IFN) started implementation in 2015.
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
The Ministry of Environment presented the “Forests, Territories of Life” project (Bosques, Territorios de Vida) in 2019, which is a strategy to control deforestation and improve forest management. It is a comprehensive cross-sectoral policy instrument that engages various sectors to curb deforestation and forest degradation, addressing its complex causes.
Advances in the implementation of the Peace Agreement have created opportunities to better link environmental, social and economic issues, so that they respond to the challenges that its implementation poses and contribute to the integrated development of rural areas. "Forest Territories of Life" includes five strategic lines that seek to comprehensively encompass forest governance and make a long-term commitment to advance towards sustainable rural development based on natural forests.
The project bridges green growth with the climate change adaptation and mitigation commitments made by the country, as formulated in the National Climate Change Policy and the Colombian Strategy for Low Carbon Development, with the National Policy for the Comprehensive Management of Biodiversity and its Ecosystem Services, the CONPES 3680 of the National System of Protected Areas, the Policy on Sustainable Land Management, the National Restoration Plan, and with the National Forest Development Plan.
The construction of "Forest Territories of Life" is supported by the National REDD+ Strategy, which started in 2010 with support from various international cooperation agencies, and includes measures and actions aimed to sustainably manage the country's forests and control the causes of loss of natural forests.
Initiatives and Development Plans
Colombia has made significant progress in constructing the four REDD+ pillars required by the UNFCCC: (i) National REDD+ Strategy or Action Plan, (ii) National Forest Monitoring System, (iii) Reference Level of Forest Emissions, and (iv) a National Safeguards Information System.
The “Forests Territories of Life” project actually embodies the Action Plan of the National Policy to Combat Deforestation. This way, the “Forests Territories of Life '' strategy articulates the moment of political convergence around peace with attaining a climate-change compatible green growth, in the framework of the international environmental commitments made by the country.
Colombia is also implementing early strategic actions to reduce deforestation: (i) the Vision Program Amazon; (ii) the GEF Corazón Amazonia project; (iii) the Joint Statement of interest (DCI) or Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the Colombian government and Norway, the United Kingdom and Germany,; and (iv) the Sustainable Forest Landscapes initiative, among others.
Goals and Ambitions
Reduce deforestation and forest degradation by promoting and implementing sustainable forest management, as part of integrated sustainable rural development that contributes to the well-being of local communities and local development and increases the ecosystem resilience by promoting the adaptation and mitigation of climate change.
- Improve deforestation monitoring.
- Encourage local-level economic activities (e.g., ecotourism) that promote agroforestry and biodiversity conservation.