Peace: An opportunity for the environment in Colombia
30 Jun 2016 by Arnaud Peral, Resident Representative a.i., UNDP Colombia
Today more than ever we need to pursue an optimistic approach in the firm conviction that we will be better off with peace than with war: and this outlook applies to all areas across the board – social, economic and environmental.
The armed conflict has left an immense ecological footprint and has limited the extent to which Colombia can achieve development through biodiversity.
There are many examples of the conflict's direct impact on goods and services that derive from nature: the planting of landmines (Colombia evidences the second largest number of victims after Afghanistan); violent incidents in protected areas; deforestation caused by the expansion of illicit crops; the growth of illegal mining, deforestation and soil degradation, among others.
Let's talk about the opportunities that peace can bring.
Firstly, the environment is essential for achieving post-conflict reconciliation and stabilization at the global level. In Colombia, a culturally and biologically diverse country, such resources are of paramount importance.
The second opportunity relates to pursuing more concerted efforts in order to overcome social and institutional constraints. The geographical areas most seriously affected by the conflict, often the most biodiverse territories in Colombia, are also those with the highest Unmet Basic Needs indicators (the method that identifies critical gaps in housing, sanitation, education and economic capacity), as well as the greatest needs for institution-building in local environment policy.
While the Andean region has a needs indicator of 25 per cent, regions with major environmental potential such as the Amazon reach 60 per cent.
Peace will usher in an opportunity to showcase the environmental potential of these Colombian regions in addition to generating dynamic economic and social development.
The third environmental opportunity has to do with achieving more and better markets for products deriving from biodiversity.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, tourism is closely linked to the environment, according to a UNDP report highlighting the region as a superpower in biodiversity. Indeed, 70 per cent of tourists visit natural areas. In the Caribbean, 94 per cent of tourism businesses depend on the environment for their livelihood.
The fourth opportunity revolves around how the implementation of the peace accords will provide the perfect scenario for bringing about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, i.e., ensuring more rapid fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The international community has shown considerable confidence and interest in Colombia, as illustrated for example at COP21 in Paris with the Agreement between the Colombian Government, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom on results-based payments for reducing deforestation. Peace will accelerate the implementation of this agreement and various other initiatives.
In this context, it is crucial to reduce gender gaps and empower women in post-conflict settings, as such efforts will expedite fulfillment of all the goals relating to development, peace and the environment.
As an example of environmental benefits in the post-conflict arena, we may point inter alia to the Aponte indigenous community in Nariño, which has reclaimed its ancestral territory from the impacts of coca crops. This village is an example that has been recognized as one of the 21 winning experiments in the UNDP Equator Prize, awarded during COP21.
We must aspire to achieve a Colombia without conflict, a country that is prosperous and sustainable, and that does not marginalize any of its citizens.