Climate change and peacebuilding in Colombia

"Colombia is the oldest, and one of the most stable democracies in Latin America but it is also experiencing the longest internal conflict in the western hemisphere. Since it began, 220.000 have been killed, 30.000 kidnapped, and 25.000 have disappeared…

- While 6.5 million have been displaced and 8.3 million hectares of land were abandoned. Yeah, yeah, I’ve already read about it...

Hmm… alright clever clogs, but we want to know the reasons for the conflict and its relationship with climate change.

- Isn’t it something to do with drug-dealing and the Cold War? Yep, that’s what I read.

Fair enough. Those are aggravating factors, but most important are the background reasons that made Colombia a hotbed for conflict. The structural reasons are political divergences, the weakness of the State, but most of all, the problem of land access.

- I wouldn't say Colombia is short of land.

The problem isn't how much there is, but how it is distributed. Colombia is the country with the highest level of land concentration in Latin America, while the Latin American region has the highest concentration of land ownership in the world.

- This means Colombia’s levels of land concentration are among some of the highest globally…But does that have to do with climate change?

The greater the extension of farm land, the more land is destined for extensive livestock production. In Colombia, 80% of farming land is used for pasture for livestock feed, mainly for cattle. Extensive livestock generates 15% of Colombia’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the figure is even higher when related deforestation is considered. On the other hand, deforestation generates 36% of GHGs. 48% of deforestation is caused by land-grabbing and 8% by extensive livestock farming.

- But without livestock in a livestock-based country, how is the economy sustained?

This is the most interesting part. In Colombia, land isn't used according to the government’s vocation of use of soil. Livestock occupies 130% more land than it should. Meanwhile, agriculture occupies only 38% of the land suitable for it. However, agriculture generates 60% of the GDP of the agricultural sector. While livestock uses 80% of the land and generates just 40%.

- That is to say, that livestock uses more land, generates higher greenhouse gas emissions and produces less?

Exactly. And don't forget that access to land is one of the main reasons for the increase and persistence of armed conflict in Colombia. Because of that, it was included as the first point of the Peace Agreement.

- Ok, ok, that makes sense. But at this point, how can the use of land be improved?

The problem of land in Colombia has been widely studied and there is, more or less, a general consensus of what has to be done. First: complete the rural cadastre. Second: formalize the ownership of land in Colombia. Third: guarantee the operation of the Land Fund proposed in the Peace Agreement. Fourth: introduce a tax to promote the efficient use of land.

- If we know how to do it, why it hasn't been done?

Actually, it has been tried. During the last century, there have been three attempts of rural reform to distribute the access to land, but they all failed. Today, the Peace Agreement includes an Integral Rural Reform. However, the attention on the fulfillment of the peace agreements has been on demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants. This is leaving behind the implementation of the Reform.

- Actually, that is more urgent.

Everything is urgent. More than 50% of the peace agreements fail during the first five years due to non-compliance or because the causes of conflict are not handled properly. On the other hand, climate change policies in Colombia do not include recommendations to manage the problem of high concentration of land.

- Mmm... interesting! The miracles of economic development that have happened in the last century in countries like Japan, South Korea or Vietnam have happened after the implementation of rural reforms.

In short, the Integral Rural Reform and a land tax have the possibility to solve the structural causes of the conflict, improve the productivity of the rural sector, and reduce one of the main causes of deforestation and climate change in Colombia."