BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia is targeting a 30% reduction in deforestation during President Ivan Duque’s term, which ends in August 2022, Environment Minister Carlos Eduardo Correa said on Monday.
The target, less ambitious than one previously floated by Duque himself, is meant to stem tree-felling in Colombia, including in its Amazon.
More than half of global destruction of old-growth tropical rainforests has taken place in the Amazon and bordering forests since 2002. Rainforests, in particular the Amazon, absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide and scientists say their protection is vital to curbing climate change.
Correa hopes the 30% cut to deforestation can be exceeded, he said in an interview, and a 50% target floated last year by Duque to Reuters is still on the table.
“We’re making greater efforts to be able to reach that 50%, but our goal in the national plan is 30% by 2022,” Correa said. “We hope we can reach a rate higher than 30%.”
Colombia lost 158,894 hectares (392,636 acres) of forest in 2019, down 19% on 2018 levels.
Correa said he could not give any estimates on 2020 deforestation levels, but that increases were recorded in the first quarter of last year before subsequently falling.
“In June we will have the figures for 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, where we expect to have very positive results,” Correa said.
Coronavirus has complicated some efforts to prevent tree-felling, he said.
“The pandemic meant 2020 was a year that didn’t allow a large physical presence across the country,” he said. “At no time has (work) stopped, but, of course, the ministries couldn’t get there.”
The government has set its sights on planting 180 million trees throughout the country by the end of the administration. Just over 50 million trees have been planted so far, with another 70 million slated to be planted this year.
“We’ve activated an entire ecosystem of participants,” Correa said. “We’re going to achieve this goal.”
Colombia was the deadliest country for environmental activists in 2019, according to a report published last year.
The government is increasing its presence to protect campaigners, Correa said.
“This isn’t a job just for the Environment Ministry, but also for the Interior Ministry, the national police and the national protection unit.”
Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Leslie Adler