Will a Colombian Peace Deal Help the Environment?

Nov 24 2016 Comments 0

Tomorrow, the Colombian government is scheduled to make history by bringing to a close more than 50 years of conflict with FARC rebels. The original peace accord was signed at the end of September but rejected in a public referendum just days after the event, with hopes that this second deal will be more favourably received by critics of the initial accord.

If the finalisation of the deal goes off without a hitch and Colombia finally does achieve lasting peace, it will mean an end to decades of bloodshed, violence and terror. But aside from its human impact, a peace deal could have a significant effect on the environment, as well.

A long-lasting negative impact

The enduring conflict between the Colombian government and leftist FARC rebels has left deep scars on the heritage and the lives of its people, but it has also ravaged the face of this beautiful, biodiverse country. Indeed, the consequences of warfare on the environment are all too often ignored, with concerns about death tolls and human impact understandably taking centre stage.

However, the detrimental effect of war on the environment should not be underestimated. Besides widespread deforestation and the spread of harmful chemicals both to promote and deter illegal forms of agriculture and mining, armed skirmishes have also involved the deliberate explosion of several oil pipelines. It’s estimated that the equivalent of as many as 4.1 million barrels of oil has been spilled in the last 35 years alone.

In the 23 years from 1990 to 2013, 58% of all deforestation in the country took place in areas affected by the conflicts and for reasons relating directly to it. By bringing the war to an end, the government estimates it could save up to £1.8 billion per year.

The enormous environmental potential of the peace accord

The accord has the potential to greatly benefit Colombia’s immense natural resources and the negotiators responsible for drawing it up have not neglected that fact. Indeed, Colombia has been trying to turn its environmental situation around for several years now, with the UK government pledging £3 million to curb climate change in developing countries like Colombia back in 2012.

The accord contains legislation empowering farmers and local landowners to grant them greater access and freedom in making the land sustainable and profitable, as well as holding them to account on green practices.

Meanwhile, though the conflict used up a significant amount of natural resources in its deforestation efforts, it could also be argued that many areas of biodiversity enjoyed restricted access from mining, logging and other exploitative industries as a direct result of warzones. The accord has allowed for the imminent greater access such industries will achieve by specifying that allowances be made to safeguard the region’s natural resources. What’s more, part of the reparations specified in the deal involve FARC rebels committing to environmental practices and projects across the country.

Of course, much work and diligence will be required to make sure that not only do the under-threat regions which have been ravaged by conflict receive the proper care and attention they need, but that the environment can be nurtured in such a way that allows the economy to flourish in tandem. If executed effectively, the peace accord could spell superb news not just for the lives of Colombians today but for generations to come.

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