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Colombia’s first National Ecosystem Assessment Sounds the Alarm for Biodiversity Decline

At the launch of Colombia’s national ecosystem assessment held virtually on June 30, 2021, authors and experts called for an urgent need to shift to better environmental management and stronger implementation of environmental legislation to halt the country’s rapid biodiversity loss. During the assessment, 105 experts from scientific, traditional and local knowledge backgrounds came together to articulate multiple scenarios for the trajectory of Colombia’s biodiversity and ecosystems until 2050 and its impacts on people's well-being.

With its rich, diverse ecosystems ranging from high mountains to wetlands, forests and coastal marine ecosystems, for Colombians, nature’s contributions take on different forms. Yet, drivers of biodiversity loss such as deforestation, erosion, overgrazing and increasingly severe competition over natural resources threaten Colombia’s environmental sustainability, affecting not only the functionality of these ecosystems but also the relationships among species.

The assessment has been the product of a three-year-long effort to build Colombia’s capacity in support of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Led by the Humboldt Institute in partnership with UNEP-WCMC's National Ecosystem Assessment Initiative and supported by the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety through the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Network (BES-Net), this assessment marks the first of several to be launched by countries in 2021.

A historical moment

Speaking at the launch, Ana María Hernández, President of IPBES, noted how historical this occasion was. “Colombia was one of the pilot countries in this effort to match and strengthen this collective knowledge we have at the global level with national evidence. There is a lot of information about the state of biodiversity, conducted by numerous scientific institutions, but the critical analysis present in this evaluation helps guide us to take informed decisions and gives us directions for a better, more sustainable future.”

Echoing this understanding, Hernando García Martínez, Director General of the Humboldt Institute in Colombia said, “This assessment shows us that biodiversity is the country’s biggest asset, for its economy and its development. This is the first step. We need the guidance emerging from this assessment to be mobilized in dialogue, not just within the environmental sector but across all other sectors.”

The assessment points to the need for building greater institutional capacity among not just environmental institutions but also other bodies responsible for sustainable development and local governance. In the Colombian context, experts noted that conflicts arising over issues of mining or the agro-industry demand greater attention and awareness. Equipping these actors with skills and training, as well as budgets and accountability for implementation can ensure that policies and programmes are well-coordinated and impactful.

Leaving no one behind

The summary for policymakers specifically highlights the need to include marginalized voices in ecosystem decision-making and balancing power dynamics where access and benefit-sharing of ecosystem services are concerned. The authors noted that deep imbalances exist in the production of scientific and technological knowledge – often divided across regions, rural-urban and missing valuable indigenous knowledge systems about nature. This has also manifested in numerous environmental conflicts and the repression of environmental defenders and local leaders. Environmental justice cannot be ensured without creating avenues for vulnerable and local communities to participate meaningfully.

Environmental justice cannot be ensured without creating avenues for vulnerable and local communities to participate meaningfully.

Investing in research and environmental management

Authors and chapter coordinators at the launch continuously emphasized the need for Colombia to heavily invest in environmental and scientific research and management. In comparison to other countries in Latin America, the authors noted that Colombia had one of the lowest levels of investment in science and technology. Particularly for gathering greater information on species and genetic variety and growing the gene pool, stopping the loss of species will be hard without focusing on these aspects.

Following this launch, the assessment will be disseminated widely among decision-makers, helping to build capacity and creating the conditions for the assessment’s findings to be adopted and used across sectors.

Carlos Eduardo Correa, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, summed up the event by noting the Ministry’s appreciation for this extraordinary effort, “We appreciate the collective effort of 105 experts from different disciplines and different regions across the country. This assessment will help Colombian society in knowing where we are and where we are going, offering us policy options for biodiversity that combines conservation and growth.”

The Colombia National Ecosystem Assessment team.

To read more about Colombia's national ecosystem assessment, visit here.

Credits:

Photo by Robin Noguier on Unsplash Image courtesy of Humboldt Institute Photo by Juan Camilo Guarin P on Unsplash Photo by Reiseuhu on Unsplash Photo by alan bajura on Unsplash Image courtesy of Humboldt Institute