Amazon, Colombia

The Court extended the mandate to the 81 municipalities of the Colombian Amazon and demanded that they update their territorial regulation plans. None of them did. | Alex Guillau, Unsplash

The Colombian government has failed to fulfill the Supreme Court’s landmark order to protect the Amazon

One year ago, the Colombian Supreme Court declared the Colombian Amazon a subject of rights, ordering the government to take measures to preserve it by curbing deforestation. However, the government has not taken sufficient action; meanwhile, threats to the rainforest continue to grow.

Por: April 5, 2019

This Friday, April 5th, marks one year since Colombia’s Supreme Court of Justice ruled that the government must abate climate change by stopping deforestation in the Amazon. In its decision on a lawsuit filed by 25 children and youth in Colombia, the Court declared the Amazon an entity subject of rights and laid out specific mandates for the government to ensure it complies with Colombia’s international commitments to reduce deforestation to net zero by 2020. This decision, including the court’s recognition of the rights of future generations, was hailed as “one of the most robust environmental court rulings in the world” by Michael Gerrard, Director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

Despite the ruling, however, deforestation in the Amazon has increased, and about 75% of all deforestation in Colombia has occurred in the Amazonian region. What’s more, the current government of Iván Duque has not demonstrated political will to curb this phenomenon: the government’s proposed development plan has no commitment to reduce forest loss. On the contrary, the plan’s deforestation goals would allow approximately 800,000 hectares of forests to be cut down in the next four years.

Today, one year after the decision, the 25 youth plaintiffs of the landmark case are returning to the court to seek a declaration that the government and other defendants have failed to fulfill the four orders the Supreme Court of Justice mandated last April 5, 2018.

Here, we explain these failures.

Mandate One: Create an action plan for the short, medium, and long term to reduce deforestation in the Amazon.

In its Sentence 4360 of 2018, the Supreme Court of Justice ordered the President, the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to act in coordination with the National Environmental Agency and consult the plaintiffs, affected communities, and other stakeholders to develop, within four months, an action plan for the short, medium, and long term to lower the deforestation rate in the Colombian Amazon and address its climate impacts, with the goal of reducing the early warning deforestation alerts of the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM in Spanish). The deadline lapsed in August of 2018 without any action plans having been created.

To comply with this mandate, the President issued Presidential Directive No. 10 of 2018, which delegated to the Ministry of the Environment the task of coordinating with various agencies. The government also organized five regional workshops in July and August 2018. However, these workshops were conducted in principal cities of the Amazon, meaning the affected communities in rural areas were not represented and overall community participation was low.

Without regard for such limited participation, the Ministry of the Environment submitted to the Court a document entitled “Action plan to reduce deforestation and address the effects of climate change in the Colombian Amazon – Sentence 4360 of 2018.” This is only a draft, as the text itself affirms: “it should be noted that, in the context of the new government and the current process of appointing officials who will be responsible for the implementation of the action plan, the present action plan must be validated to specify its alignment with the [new] government’s priorities and the budgetary limitations for medium-term activities.” Furthermore, as this statement demonstrates, any changes would be made unilaterally: a direct violation of the court’s order to make the process inclusive and participative.

Finally, the lack of political will to stop deforestation is evident in the deforestation goals of the National Development Plan for 2018-2022 (NDP): to reduce the growth rate of deforestation to zero by 2022. This means that the government will continue to cut trees at the rate registered in 2017, a year when 219,973 hectares of forests were lost and when the rate of deforestation reached its peak (in a seven-year period from 2010 to 2017). This target permits the deforestation of more than 800,000 hectares of forests within the next four years and was established in disregard of Court’s orders in the youth’s climate case and of Colombia’s international commitments, such as those made within the framework of the Paris Agreement.

Mandate Two: Create an Intergenerational Pact for the life of the Colombian Amazon.

The Supreme Court’s second order was for the President, the Ministry of the Environment, and the Ministry of Agriculture to create, within five months and in consultation with the plaintiffs, affected communities, scientific organizations, environmental research groups, and other stakeholders, an Intergenerational Pact for the Life of the Colombian Amazon. The Court mandated that the Intergenerational Pact contain “measures aimed at reducing deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions to zero, which should include national, regional, and local implementation strategies, as well as preventative, obligatory, corrective, and educational strategies to adapt to climate change.”

Just like the first mandate, the Presidential Directive charged the Ministry of the Environment with coordinating the creation of the Intergenerational Pact. The Ministry submitted a document entitled, “Creating agreements to ensure the life of the Colombian Amazon: Advances in the construction of the Intergenerational Pact for the life of the Colombian Amazon.” This document acknowledges that “while important advancements have been made towards the construction of the Intergenerational Pact, on the 17th of September 2018, a formal request was submitted to the honorable Supreme Court of Justice to agree to an extension of 10 months [or until July 2019] to allow for a participative process and the institutional coordination necessary to give a solid base to the action plan as well as the pact.” Although the Court has not responded to this request, the youth plaintiffs believe that a pending ruling on it does not justify government’s inaction in the meantime; it does not excuse the government from fulfilling the court’s 2018 mandate. Further, in the last eight months, the Ministry has not organized any meetings to develop the Intergenerational Pact. This failure to act is a blatant disregard of the urgency that the serious problem of deforestation in the Amazon and its climate change impacts demand.

Finally, in September 2018, the Ministry proposed seven phases for the construction of the Intergenerational Pact, but did not establish dates, assign persons or agencies in charge, or create a budget for the fulfillment of each phase. While the government previously announced that the Intergenerational Pact would be considered in the National Development Plan for 2018-2022, there is no sign of the pact in the plan’s framework.

Mandate Three: Update and implement Local Land Management Plans (Municipalities in the Amazon)

The Court’s third order is directed at municipalities in the Amazon, ordering them to update and implement their Local Land Management Plans within five months of the ruling. According to the Court, these plans must include action plans for reducing deforestation, as well as measurable strategies aimed at adapting to climate change.

While, initially, only 14 municipalities were defendants in the case, the Court’s order applies to all 81 municipalities that compose the Colombian Amazon, according to the Sinchi Institute. Of the 14 defendants, only seven submitted information about their compliance with the Court’s order. Seven other municipalities also submitted responses to indicate actions they had taken to reduce deforestation, which means that, of the 81 municipalities under mandate, only 14 have provided some information on their progress. Of these 14, not a single municipality has updated its local land management plan or provided an action plan with measurable strategies for curbing deforestation, as ordered by the Court.

Mandate Four: Create an action plan to stop deforestation (Regional environmental authorities with jurisdiction over the Amazon)

The Court’s fourth order was directed to Corpoamazonia, Cormacarena, and the Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the northern and western Amazon (CDA). These are local environmental authorities with jurisdiction over the Amazon. The Court specifically ordered them to create and implement an action plan to address the drivers of deforestation identified by the IDEAM through police, judicial, and administrative measures. The action plan was to be implemented within five months of the court’s order.

While these three authorities have said that they are complying with the Court’s mandate, they have not yet provided the court any roadmap for the formulation of the action plan. Instead, they have taken steps to integrate different parts of the Comprehensive Strategy for Deforestation Control and Forest Management and placed timelines for each action. However, it bears emphasizing that this strategy was created by the Ministry of the Environment before the Court’s April 5, 2018 decision and does not constitute the action plan the Court demanded of them.

The failures, in short:

Mandate One: Create an action plan for the short, medium, and long term to stop deforestation in the Amazon

– The Ministry of the Environment must lead the creation of this plan. In 2018, the Ministry organized five regional workshops in the Amazon that had limited community participation. The Ministry then submitted a draft with a note that the plan must be validated for alignment with the priorities of the next government (of Iván Duque) and budgetary limitations. Further, the Ministry has announced that the document can only be modified by the Ministry itself, denying other actors the opportunity to participate in its development.

-The national government’s lack of political will to stop deforestation is reflected in the deforestation goals proposed in the National Development Plan for 2018-2022, which merely targets that the current levels of deforestation do not increase. While this may sound positive, it actually means that 219,973 hectares of forests will be cut down per year for the next four years.

Mandate Two: Create an Intergenerational Pact for the Life of the Colombian Amazon

-In September 2018, the Ministry submitted a document with updates about the construction of the Intergenerational Pact and requested a 10-month extension from the Supreme Court to submit the Intergenerational Pact and action plans. Since September 2018, the Ministry of the Environment has not contacted the plaintiffs to advance the process of constructing the Intergenerational Pact.

-In September 2018, the Ministry of the Environment presented a timeline for the construction of the Pact that did not include dates, persons or agencies in charge, or a budget for completing each phase.

-The Pact was not included in the current government’s proposed National Development Plan, contrary to earlier pronouncements by the Ministry of the Environment in its submissions to the Supreme Court.

Mandate Three: Update and implement Local Land Management Plans (Municipalities in the Amazon)

-Of the 14 defendant municipalities, only 7 submitted information about their compliance with the Court’s orders.

-The Court extended the mandate to the 81 municipalities of the Colombian Amazon and demanded that they update their local land management plans. To date, none of them has done this.

Mandate Four: Create an action plan to stop deforestation (Regional environmental authorities with jurisdiction over the Amazon)

-This mandate is directed at Corpoamazonia, Cormacarena, and the Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the northern and western Amazon (CDA). The three agencies have said that they are complying with the order, but to our knowledge, they have not provided a roadmap for the formulation of an action plan. The document they cited to demonstrate compliance with the court’s orders is a document that was produced by the Ministry of the Environment before the Court’s ruling on April 5, 2018 and does not constitute compliance with the Court’s mandate.

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