Breaking News: The Colombian Amazon Has the Same Rights as a Person

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Colombia’s Supreme Court issued a historic ruling combating climate change in Latin America. According to the decision, the Amazon region is now subject to rights, similar to those assigned to the Atrato River, and the Presidency and regional entities must act urgently to protect it from deforestation.

That a region in Colombia is considered a subject that has rights, in the manner of a citizen of the community, is a historical development in the country and news of global interest. The Colombian Amazon has just received this category from the Supreme Court, which studied a complaint and resolved the case in what could be the first judicial ruling in Latin America against climate change at the international level. For the high court, the Colombian authorities are not doing enough to protect the area from deforestation and the effects of climate change.

Among the orders issued by the Court is a directive to the Presidency and the Ministry of the Environment to formulate, within a period of no more than four months, an action plan in the short, medium and long term to counteract the rate of deforestation in the Amazon, in which the effects of climate change are addressed. Additionally, the high court ordered the aforementioned authorities to formulate, within five months, an intergenerational pact for the life of the Colombian Amazon, in which measures are adopted to reduce deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions to zero.

To arrive at this unprecedented decision, the Supreme Court studied a suit filed by 25 children and youths from Colombia between the ages of seven and 26, with the support of the Dejusticia organization. In their review, the high court established that the Colombian State has not done enough to address the problem of deforestation in the Amazon, despite having signed numerous international commitments and the existence in the nation of sufficient regulation and jurisprudence on the matter. The high court explained that between 2015 and 2016, there was a 44% increase in deforestation in the region, from 56,952 to 70,074 hectares.

By means of a press release, the high court added that the governmental Regional Autonomous Corporation is not fulfilling its functions of evaluating, controlling and monitoring natural resources, nor of sanctioning the violation of environmental protection norms. The decision covers the entire region of the Amazon that has experienced the effects of deforestation, in departments (states) including Amazonas, Caquetá, Guaviare and Putumayo. The civil appeal chamber, in making this decision, based its ruling on the position taken by the Constitutional Court in April 2017, when it declared that the Atrato River is subject to rights.

Among other decisions issued by the Supreme Court is an order to all municipalities in the Colombian Amazon to update and implement, within five months, their Land Management Plans, which must contain an action plan to attain zero deforestation in their territory, which will encompass measurable strategies of a preventive, mandatory, corrective, and pedagogical nature, aimed at adaptation to climate change. For the high court, it is clear that in this process to reduce deforestation, it is essential that there be joint work between the authorities, starting with the Presidency and including the regional governmental agencies that experience the repercussions of climate change on a daily basis.

For this reason, the Court ordered the Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the Southern Amazon Region (Corpoamazonia), the Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the Northern and Eastern Amazon Region (CDA), and the Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the La Macarena Special Management Area (Cormacarena) to formulate, within a period of five months, “an action plan that counters by means of police, judicial or administrative measures the problems of deforestation identified by IDEAM (the government agency in charge of producing and managing scientific and technical information on the environment).” The high court urgently ordered that, within 48 hours of the notification of its ruling, those involved in this matter comply with its orders.

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