21 Oct 2021

Colombia’s Amazon: Fears authorities turning blind eye to illegal deforestation as scale of problem exposed

Colombia’s Amazon rainforest has lost an area larger than Wales in recent years despite hundreds of millions of pounds sent from Britain to protect it from deforestation, a Channel 4 News investigation can reveal.

Colombia is home to the world’s largest tropical rainforest national park, Chiribiquete, where the indigenous Tucano people say vast swathes of it is being hacked and burned to make way for cattle and they fear big ranchers may soon encroach on them.

Images from the US’s Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) show the extent of deforestation in Colombia’s Amazon, and the agency says cattle population in the area has grown three-fold since 2016.

When confronted by Channel 4 News, Colombia’s Minister for Environment Carlos Eduardo Correa said: “We are making very significant efforts with our resources.”

‘It’s outrageous’

Britain has pledged almost a quarter of a billion pounds to fund projects aimed at protecting Colombia’s Amazon by providing local people with an alternative income to cattle farming.

Local farmer Fernando told Channel 4 News the government subsidy was not enough to stop farmers relying on cattle.

Another farmer said big cattle ranchers are protected by authorities who turn a blind eye to illegal deforestation.

We contacted Britain’s ambassador to Colombia, but he refused our request for an interview.

Norway has partnered with Britain for some projects aimed at protecting Colombia’s Amazon, and Ole Reidar Bergum, their embassy’s climate counsellor, said he thought it was “outrageous that international companies in one way or another are involved in the destruction of these areas”.

Asked if he trusts the Colombian government to deliver the projects, he said: “ We have a partnership. And as in a marriage you have to trust your partner if not to get a divorce. Right. That’s what it’s all about.”

He added: “It takes time for things to happen, but the funding streams depend on results.”

World leaders are preparing to gather in Glasgow for the COP26 climate change conference in less than two weeks, sparking a renewed focus on protecting the Amazon, which is known as the lungs of the earth, but our investigation raises questions about whether international efforts are working.