Deforestation in Colombia fell to historic lows in 2023, environment minister says

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Deforestation in Colombia fell 36% in 2023 versus the previous year, the government said Monday, marking the lowest level since records began.

The decline was driven by a drop in environmental destruction in the Amazon, the world's largest rainforest, including about one-third of it in Colombia, the government of leftist President Gustavo Petro said.

Deforestation fell nationwide to about 792 square kilometers (about 305 square miles) in 2023, down from about 1,235 square kilometers (about 477 square miles) a year earlier. A little over half of the deforestation came in the Amazon.

The decrease “means that 44,262 hectares of forest stopped being cut down,” Environment Minister Susana Muhamad told journalists. “It is very good news, but we definitely cannot say that the battle is won. We continue to confront illicit economies."

When elected in 2022, Petro vowed to halt record-high rates of deforestation in the Amazon by limiting agribusiness expansion into the forest and by creating reserves where Indigenous communities and others are allowed to harvest rubber, acai and other non-timber forest products.

Advancing peace talks between the government and guerrilla groups in the area, along with financial incentives for farmers in the Amazon to help with conservation, drove the drop. It came after deforestation had fallen about 29% in 2022.

Environmental experts over past years have said the decrease in deforestation was also likely tied to orders from dissident groups of FARC guerrillas forbidding deforestation. Muhamad said Monday the strong presence of government armed forces in these areas as well as progress made with peace talks will be key to maintaining a downward trend.

But next year's figures don't look as promising. A significant rise in deforestation has already been recorded due to the effects of dry weather caused by El Nino, Muhamad said, which is a weather phenomenon that warms the central Pacific. Mass cattle ranching, drug crops and illegal mining and logging continue to drive deforestation in the Andean nation, Muhamad said.

The data was released as Colombia ramps up to host the COP16 United Nations biodiversity summit in the southwestern city of Cali starting Oct. 21.

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