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Why we are demanding the Colombian government halt deforestation

Wednesday, 31 January 2018 15:44 GMT

Camila Bustos stands at the left of a group of plaintiffs, aged 7 to 26, who filed a climate change lawsuit against the Colombian government on Jan. 29, 2018. Photo taken in Bogota, Nov. 25, 2017. Photo courtesy Dejusticia

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"I am proud of being part of a generation that refuses to sit in silence"

I remember being at the Paris climate negotiations in 2015 and hearing Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos reaffirm the government’s commitment to reach zero-net deforestation in the Colombian Amazon by 2020.

At the time, the government also announced its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2030 and prided itself on supporting strong climate action.

By then, I had been an activist for coal divestment, researched fossil fuel extraction, pushed for local climate change legislation, and attended enough UN climate talks to know one thing: climate change was threatening the fulfillment of human rights around the world and we were not doing nearly enough to stop it.

That was also when I learned that despite the slow progress at the climate negotiations and the failure of governments to advance their plans to tackle emissions and adapt to a warming world, climate advocates were turning to a new strategy: climate litigation.

This is why I decided to join 24 other young Colombians in suing the national government for failing to curb deforestation in the Amazon region.

Today, cattle ranching, the expansion of the agricultural frontier, and mining are driving the destruction of our forest. The most recent data shows that  deforestation increased by 44 percent in 2016, which is equal to 178,597 acres of forest loss.

With Dejusticia’s support, we are arguing that deforestation is violating our constitutional right to a healthy environment, which in turn threatens our right to water, food, and health.

As we began developing the lawsuit, we learned about the intrinsic connections between the Amazon and the water cycle that supplies the rest of the nation. We learned about how deforesting one area could have a significant impact thousands of kilometers away. We learned that,according to official projections, we could expect a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2070.

The more we read and studied about climate impacts in Colombia, the clearer the sense of urgency we felt.

We realized we had to ask the government to back its international rhetoric on deforestation with concrete and effective actions on the ground. Not only is the destruction of forests the greatest source behind Colombia’s greenhouse gas emissions, but it is also a threat to local ecosystems and the people that depend on them for their livelihoods.

But our petitions do not end there. We are also asking that the government creates an inter-generational agreement on climate change, outlining the measures that the government will adopt to reduce deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. We ask that this document also includes the adaptation and mitigation strategies each vulnerable municipality in the country will implement.

What I find most exciting about the prospect of a court ruling in our favor is that our case is not an exception, but part of a broader movement seeking justice through climate change litigation. The climate movement is evolving and, as we increase pressure on governments to act on climate, we diversify our toolkit and strategies to demand social change.

We hope that our lawsuit can help inform and shape public debates, calling attention to the monumental crisis the planet is facing.

I am proud of being one the the plaintiffs behind this lawsuit. I am proud of being part of a generation that refuses to sit in silence.

Camila Bustos is a plaintiff of the climate lawsuit and a researcher at the Center for the Study of Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia). She is writing in her personal capacity.

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