After more than 60 years of internal armed conflict, Colombia has the opportunity to sign a peace agreement with the FARC in the coming year. While the Colombian government has met in Havana to negotiate an end to the war, the country has also played an important role in leading discussions on the Sustainable Development Goals, which were finalized in September of this year. Earlier this month, Colombia negotiated a global climate agreement with more than 190 countries that will trigger a transformation in our economies towards a clean energy future.
Although these two agendas appear to be completely isolated, they complement one another. A territory in search for peace cannot support deforestation, the unsustainable use of resources, and a model that does not bring prosperity to the country. At the same time, a sustainable development agenda cannot co-exist with a population that suffers from forced displacement, chronic poverty, and inequality. Sustainable development is an agenda that entails environmental, social and economic objectives. It challenges the traditional model that prioritizes economic growth over the prosperity of Colombians.
In his speech to the international community at the beginning of the climate talks in Paris, President Santos laid out some of the similarities between sustainable development and a post-conflict scenario in Colombia referring to “rural people cultivating coca, deforesting and mistreating the environment” in the midst of conflict. The reality is that the war in Colombia has not only destroyed communities, but also our natural resources, especially our forests.
For a post-conflict scenario to be successful, we must design and carefully implement a plan that integrates economic development, reintegration of ex-combatants and the sustainable use of resources. If we do not plan well, post conflict can bring even more instability, violence and unsustainable development by exacerbating inequality, vulnerability to climate change impacts and deforestation.
In its national contribution on climate change, the Colombian government recognized that peace processes in other parts of the world have historically resulted in negative environmental impacts. This is due largely to populations that tend to migrate internally, moving to vulnerable zones that are predisposed to deforestation during the peace process.
However, history does not have to repeat itself in Colombia. We are in a critical moment where we can both foresee the negative impacts of a poorly managed post-conflict scenario and gather the international support necessary to combat climate change in a way that is also strategic for peace. We already have allies in this fight. The government of Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom have committed to almost 100 million dollars to bring Colombian deforestation to a halt.
At the start of the climate talks in Paris, the Colombian government announced the umbrella strategy “Sustainable Colombia” which aims to garner international resources, channeling investments at a municipal level to support both the post-conflict and climate change agenda. With the help of the Inter-American Development Bank and other actors, the government has developed this initiative to collect two billion dollars to control deforestation and cover the environmental costs of a post-conflict scenario in the next 15 years.
Sustainable Colombia is an unprecedented initiative, in both its scale and form. This is an initiative that, in the words of Colombia’s Minister of the Environment Gabriel Vallejo, could “guarantee benefits for the global environment and permit us to invest in the consolidation of a new sustainable development paradigm and the construction of peace in the forests of the country.” Despite being in its early stages, this vision must guide our long-term development. Initiatives like Sustainable Colombia are creating a new inclusive and durable model of development that as Colombians, we must fight for.
*Camila Bustos is lead researcher at Nivela. Andrea Martinez is a student at Stanford University.