It is not by coincidence that Colombia is placing the protection and sustainable use of our biodiversity at the centre of our long-term development plans. Our natural endowment is among the most diverse in the world: with only 1 per cent of the planet’s surface, our territory harbours 10 per cent of all known species and a forest area comparable to the size of Kenya.
Besides being at the heart of Colombia’s identity, biodiversity and ecosystem services are essential for developing biotechnology initiatives, energy generation, and maintaining the livelihoods of local communities whose traditional knowledge is deeply rooted in the notion of living in harmony with nature.
Without a doubt, this exceptional wealth and its major role in our economy and our society will demand a sophisticated management approach: one in which we weave the sustainable use and conservation of our biodiversity into the strategies that meet national and local development goals, including poverty reduction, gender equality, and combatting disease. This vision is tightly linked to our priority objective of building a stable and long-lasting peace.
After decades of armed conflict, Colombia is closer than ever to reaching a peace agreement through dialogue. Besides the obvious benefits to a society sick of violence, we expect its environmental dividends to be enormous. Extremely harmful activities that have financed the conflict, such as the illegal extraction of minerals and illicit crops, have resulted in massive deforestation, water pollution and land degradation. All these affect local communities by endangering health, imperiling livelihoods, limiting opportunities, and therefore perpetuating poverty, particularly in rural areas.Colombia stands before a unique opportunity and we will not waste it.
While the end of the conflict surely represents a tremendous amount of environmental damage that will be avoided, it also represents great policy challenges so that our nation can seize the new development opportunities that will emerge. As such, we focus our efforts in the coming years in promoting sustainable technologies, practices and economic alternatives that will help us to maximize the environmental dividends of peace.
Our implementation efforts are propelled by two key recent international policy achievements with the potential to drive, at last, a global paradigm shift: a decisive and highly ambitious Paris Climate Agreement and a 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda underpinned by 17 integrated goals, all of which concern the human relationship with the environment.
Colombia stands before a unique opportunity and we will not waste it. In line with this universal mandate, we are strongly committed to moving away from environmentally harmful practices and promoting a shift in consumption and production patterns while fostering growth, innovation and increasing wellbeing. In 2015, we adopted a national development plan in which, for the first time, green growth is an integrated guiding vision underpinned by ambitious sustainable development targets.
Our priority aspiration is to reduce deforestation by 27 per cent below 2013 levels, initiate restoration processes in 210,000 hectares and declare 2.5 million hectares of new protected areas by 2018. By 2020, we aim at reaching zero net deforestation in the Colombian Amazon and bringing one million hectares under restoration. By 2030, deforestation in Colombia should have come to a halt and greenhouse gas emissions should be 20 per cent lower than projected levels.
There is a very powerful virtuous cycle in which peace, green growth and the environmental aspects of the 2030 Agenda interact to deliver well-being to our citizens.
Accomplishing these goals implies considerable investments and a strong commitment from all of society to a profound rural and urban transformation. It will not be easy but we are ready to take on this challenge and lay the building blocks of a more equitable and peaceful society.
There is a very powerful virtuous cycle in which peace, green growth and the environmental aspects of the 2030 Agenda interact to deliver well-being to our citizens. While peacebuilding both enables and demands new development opportunities for those affected by or involved in the conflict, strong green growth policies broaden the range of alternatives available to them while protecting nature and making progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals. At the same time, a healthy environment and more sustainable livelihoods help secure peace by preventing conflict.
Colombia is proving that this cycle can be set in motion on the ground. Sustainable cattle ranching with tangible environmental and economic results, payments for ecosystem services applied to productive lands, well preserved strategic ecosystems, encouraging land restoration experiences, and the sustainable management of forests, are among the success stories with enormous potential for transformation if replicated on a larger scale.
While the benefits clearly outweigh the costs, effectively promoting green growth policies and paving the way towards sustainable development represent unique challenges for all nations, as they entail profound changes in the way we steer decisions in our broader economy. To us, international support – coordinated under our Sustainable Colombia strategy – will continue to be essential in scaling up our efforts by matching and creating synergies with domestic financial and technical resources.
We all share a common environment that is under growing pressure and yet we have the responsibility to ensure the well-being, health and development of millions of people. My country firmly believes that UNEA will call upon and deliver much needed action on sustainable development. I hope Colombia’s message and experiences serve as a reference and enrich discussions at UNEA’s forthcoming session, and contribute to the implementation activities of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.