Kids Win a Case Giving Right of Protection to the Amazon Rainforest, progress on court mandates needs improvement

June 1, 2019

“It is clear, despite numerous international commitments, regulations, and jurisprudence on the matter, that the Colombian State has not efficiently tackled the problem of deforestation in the Amazon,” the court said.

The judges said that the forest is an “entity subject of rights,” essentially conferring human rights upon the vast and varied ecosystem, according to Reuters.

Read More: India’s Most Polluted Rivers Are Now Legally Humans

“This is a historic ruling both nationally and internationally,” César Rodríguez Garavito, director of Dejusticia and the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

“At the national level, it categorically recognizes that future generations are subject to rights, and it orders the government to take concrete actions to protect the country and planet in which they live,” he added.

amazon rainforest.jpgImage: Pixabay: rosinakaiser

The outcome of the case could reverberate around the world: A series of cases, mostly led by youths, are taking off in multiple other countries, according to Reuters.

These cases could be bolstered by international agreements that countries entered.

Read More: Major Climate Change Lawsuits Expected to Make Splash in 2018

Through the Paris Climate Agreement, 195 countries around the world have vowed to fight climate change. Although this particular agreement is voluntary in nature, the judges in Colombia viewed it as binding enough to invoke it in their ruling.

And as the effects of climate change become more apparent around the world, the argument made by young people that governments are threatening their future may gain momentum.

Read More: Meet Tia Hatton, a Global Citizen of America Who’s Suing Trump Over Climate Change

“Deforestation is threatening the fundamental rights of those of us who are young today and will face the impacts of climate change the rest of our lives,” the plaintiffs wrote.

“We are at a critical moment given the speed at which deforestation is happening in the Colombian Amazon,” they added. “The government’s lack of capacity and planning as well as its failure to protect the environment makes the adoption of urgent measures necessary.”

Global Citizen campaigns to empower youth activists around the world and you can take action on this issue here.

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BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Colombia’s highest court has told the government it must take urgent action to protect its Amazon rainforest and stem rising deforestation, in what campaigners said was an historic moment that should help conserve forests and counter climate change.

The judges said that Colombia – which is home to a swathe of rainforest roughly the size of Germany and England combined – saw deforestation rates in its Amazon region increase by 44 percent from 2015 to 2016.

“It is clear, despite numerous international commitments, regulations … that the Colombian state has not efficiently addressed the problem of deforestation in the Amazon,” the supreme court said.

The ruling comes after a group of 25 young plaintiffs, ranging in age from seven to 26, filed a lawsuit against the government in January demanding it protect their right to a healthy environment.

The plaintiffs had said the government’s failure to stop the destruction of the Amazon jeopardized their futures and violated their constitutional rights to a healthy environment, life, food and water.

Bogota-based rights group Dejusticia, which supported the plaintiffs’ case, said the verdict meant it was the first time a lawsuit of this kind had been ruled upon favorably in Latin America.

“The Supreme Court’s decision marks an historical precedent in terms of climate change litigation,” said Camila Bustos, one of the plaintiffs and a researcher at Dejusticia.

In its ruling, the court recognized Colombia’s Amazon as an “entity subject of rights”, which means that the rainforest has been granted the same legal rights as a human being.

“The ruling states the importance of protecting the rights of future generations, and even declares the Amazon a subject of rights,” Bustos told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The court ordered the government – both at the local and national level – along with the environment and agriculture ministries and environmental authorities to come up with action plans within four months to combat deforestation in the Amazon.

The Amazon’s destruction leads to “imminent and serious” damage to children and adults for both present and future generations, the judges said.

The ruling stated that forests were being felled to make way for more grazing and agricultural land, as well as coca crops – the raw ingredient for cocaine – illegal mining and logging.

Deforestation is a key source of greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change, which damages ecosystems and water sources and leads to land degradation, the court said.

“Without a healthy environment, subjects of law and living beings in general will not be able to survive, let alone safeguard those rights for our children or for future generations,” the ruling said.

The lawsuit follows a surge in litigation around the world demanding action or claiming damages over the impact of climate change – from rising sea levels to pollution.

Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Robert Carmichael. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.

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The Court extended the mandate to the 81 municipalities of the Colombian Amazon and demanded that they update their territorial regulation plans. None of them did. Alex Guillau, Unsplash

The Colombian government has failed to fulfill the Supreme Court’s landmark order to protect the Amazon

One year ago, the Colombian Supreme Court declared the Colombian Amazon a subject of rights, ordering the government to take measures to preserve it by curbing deforestation. However, the government has not taken sufficient action; meanwhile, threats to the rainforest continue to grow.

Por:  | April 5, 2019

This Friday, April 5th, marks one year since Colombia’s Supreme Court of Justice ruled that the government must abate climate change by stopping deforestation in the Amazon. In its decision on a lawsuit filed by 25 children and youth in Colombia, the Court declared the Amazon an entity subject of rights and laid out specific mandates for the government to ensure it complies with Colombia’s international commitments to reduce deforestation to net zero by 2020. This decision, including the court’s recognition of the rights of future generations, was hailed as “one of the most robust environmental court rulings in the world” by Michael Gerrard, Director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

Despite the ruling, however, deforestation in the Amazon has increased, and about 75% of all deforestation in Colombia has occurred in the Amazonian region. What’s more, the current government of Iván Duque has not demonstrated political will to curb this phenomenon: the government’s proposed development plan has no commitment to reduce forest loss. On the contrary, the plan’s deforestation goals would allow approximately 800,000 hectares of forests to be cut down in the next four years.

Today, one year after the decision, the 25 youth plaintiffs of the landmark case are returning to the court to seek a declaration that the government and other defendants have failed to fulfill the four orders the Supreme Court of Justice mandated last April 5, 2018.

Here, we explain these failures.

Mandate One: Create an action plan for the short, medium, and long term to reduce deforestation in the Amazon.

In its Sentence 4360 of 2018, the Supreme Court of Justice ordered the President, the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to act in coordination with the National Environmental Agency and consult the plaintiffs, affected communities, and other stakeholders to develop, within four months, an action plan for the short, medium, and long term to lower the deforestation rate in the Colombian Amazon and address its climate impacts, with the goal of reducing the early warning deforestation alerts of the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM in Spanish). The deadline lapsed in August of 2018 without any action plans having been created.

To comply with this mandate, the President issued Presidential Directive No. 10 of 2018, which delegated to the Ministry of the Environment the task of coordinating with various agencies. The government also organized five regional workshops in July and August 2018. However, these workshops were conducted in principal cities of the Amazon, meaning the affected communities in rural areas were not represented and overall community participation was low.

Without regard for such limited participation, the Ministry of the Environment submitted to the Court a document entitled “Action plan to reduce deforestation and address the effects of climate change in the Colombian Amazon – Sentence 4360 of 2018.” This is only a draft, as the text itself affirms: “it should be noted that, in the context of the new government and the current process of appointing officials who will be responsible for the implementation of the action plan, the present action plan must be validated to specify its alignment with the [new] government’s priorities and the budgetary limitations for medium-term activities.” Furthermore, as this statement demonstrates, any changes would be made unilaterally: a direct violation of the court’s order to make the process inclusive and participative.

Finally, the lack of political will to stop deforestation is evident in the deforestation goals of the National Development Plan for 2018-2022 (NDP): to reduce the growth rate of deforestation to zero by 2022. This means that the government will continue to cut trees at the rate registered in 2017, a year when 219,973 hectares of forests were lost and when the rate of deforestation reached its peak (in a seven-year period from 2010 to 2017). This target permits the deforestation of more than 800,000 hectares of forests within the next four years and was established in disregard of Court’s orders in the youth’s climate case and of Colombia’s international commitments, such as those made within the framework of the Paris Agreement.

Mandate Two: Create an Intergenerational Pact for the life of the Colombian Amazon.

The Supreme Court’s second order was for the President, the Ministry of the Environment, and the Ministry of Agriculture to create, within five months and in consultation with the plaintiffs, affected communities, scientific organizations, environmental research groups, and other stakeholders, an Intergenerational Pact for the Life of the Colombian Amazon. The Court mandated that the Intergenerational Pact contain “measures aimed at reducing deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions to zero, which should include national, regional, and local implementation strategies, as well as preventative, obligatory, corrective, and educational strategies to adapt to climate change.”

Just like the first mandate, the Presidential Directive charged the Ministry of the Environment with coordinating the creation of the Intergenerational Pact. The Ministry submitted a document entitled, “Creating agreements to ensure the life of the Colombian Amazon: Advances in the construction of the Intergenerational Pact for the life of the Colombian Amazon.” This document acknowledges that “while important advancements have been made towards the construction of the Intergenerational Pact, on the 17th of September 2018, a formal request was submitted to the honorable Supreme Court of Justice to agree to an extension of 10 months [or until July 2019] to allow for a participative process and the institutional coordination necessary to give a solid base to the action plan as well as the pact.” Although the Court has not responded to this request, the youth plaintiffs believe that a pending ruling on it does not justify government’s inaction in the meantime; it does not excuse the government from fulfilling the court’s 2018 mandate. Further, in the last eight months, the Ministry has not organized any meetings to develop the Intergenerational Pact. This failure to act is a blatant disregard of the urgency that the serious problem of deforestation in the Amazon and its climate change impacts demand.

Finally, in September 2018, the Ministry proposed seven phases for the construction of the Intergenerational Pact, but did not establish dates, assign persons or agencies in charge, or create a budget for the fulfillment of each phase. While the government previously announced that the Intergenerational Pact would be considered in the National Development Plan for 2018-2022, there is no sign of the pact in the plan’s framework.

Mandate Three: Update and implement Local Land Management Plans (Municipalities in the Amazon)

The Court’s third order is directed at municipalities in the Amazon, ordering them to update and implement their Local Land Management Plans within five months of the ruling. According to the Court, these plans must include action plans for reducing deforestation, as well as measurable strategies aimed at adapting to climate change.

While, initially, only 14 municipalities were defendants in the case, the Court’s order applies to all 81 municipalities that compose the Colombian Amazon, according to the Sinchi Institute. Of the 14 defendants, only seven submitted information about their compliance with the Court’s order. Seven other municipalities also submitted responses to indicate actions they had taken to reduce deforestation, which means that, of the 81 municipalities under mandate, only 14 have provided some information on their progress. Of these 14, not a single municipality has updated its local land management plan or provided an action plan with measurable strategies for curbing deforestation, as ordered by the Court.

Mandate Four: Create an action plan to stop deforestation (Regional environmental authorities with jurisdiction over the Amazon)

The Court’s fourth order was directed to Corpoamazonia, Cormacarena, and the Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the northern and western Amazon (CDA). These are local environmental authorities with jurisdiction over the Amazon. The Court specifically ordered them to create and implement an action plan to address the drivers of deforestation identified by the IDEAM through police, judicial, and administrative measures. The action plan was to be implemented within five months of the court’s order.

While these three authorities have said that they are complying with the Court’s mandate, they have not yet provided the court any roadmap for the formulation of the action plan. Instead, they have taken steps to integrate different parts of the Comprehensive Strategy for Deforestation Control and Forest Management and placed timelines for each action. However, it bears emphasizing that this strategy was created by the Ministry of the Environment before the Court’s April 5, 2018 decision and does not constitute the action plan the Court demanded of them.

The failures, in short:

Mandate One: Create an action plan for the short, medium, and long term to stop deforestation in the Amazon

– The Ministry of the Environment must lead the creation of this plan. In 2018, the Ministry organized five regional workshops in the Amazon that had limited community participation. The Ministry then submitted a draft with a note that the plan must be validated for alignment with the priorities of the next government (of Iván Duque) and budgetary limitations. Further, the Ministry has announced that the document can only be modified by the Ministry itself, denying other actors the opportunity to participate in its development.

-The national government’s lack of political will to stop deforestation is reflected in the deforestation goals proposed in the National Development Plan for 2018-2022, which merely targets that the current levels of deforestation do not increase. While this may sound positive, it actually means that 219,973 hectares of forests will be cut down per year for the next four years.

Mandate Two: Create an Intergenerational Pact for the Life of the Colombian Amazon

-In September 2018, the Ministry submitted a document with updates about the construction of the Intergenerational Pact and requested a 10-month extension from the Supreme Court to submit the Intergenerational Pact and action plans. Since September 2018, the Ministry of the Environment has not contacted the plaintiffs to advance the process of constructing the Intergenerational Pact.

-In September 2018, the Ministry of the Environment presented a timeline for the construction of the Pact that did not include dates, persons or agencies in charge, or a budget for completing each phase.

-The Pact was not included in the current government’s proposed National Development Plan, contrary to earlier pronouncements by the Ministry of the Environment in its submissions to the Supreme Court.

Mandate Three: Update and implement Local Land Management Plans (Municipalities in the Amazon)

-Of the 14 defendant municipalities, only 7 submitted information about their compliance with the Court’s orders.

-The Court extended the mandate to the 81 municipalities of the Colombian Amazon and demanded that they update their local land management plans. To date, none of them has done this.

Mandate Four: Create an action plan to stop deforestation (Regional environmental authorities with jurisdiction over the Amazon)

-This mandate is directed at Corpoamazonia, Cormacarena, and the Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the northern and western Amazon (CDA). The three agencies have said that they are complying with the order, but to our knowledge, they have not provided a roadmap for the formulation of an action plan. The document they cited to demonstrate compliance with the court’s orders is a document that was produced by the Ministry of the Environment before the Court’s ruling on April 5, 2018 and does not constitute compliance with the Court’s mandate.

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Ocean Acidification Causing Coral Reefs to Be Less Resilient to Climate Change

OCEANS

A changing climate is altering oceans in major ways and coral reefs around the planet may not be able to adapt to survive.

Ocean acidification (OA) occurs when carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is absorbed by seawater, resulting in a chemical reaction that reduces pH and calcium carbonate levels vital for the growth and repair of calcifying organisms like coral, explains the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. Publishing their work in Nature Climate Change, researchers examined four species of coral and two types of calcifying algae over the course of the year in order to determine how they might bounce back from stressful conditions.

“We found that corals and coralline algae weren’t able to acclimatize to ocean acidification,” said study author Malcolm McCulloch, adding that that the effects were rapid and persistent.

At least one-quarter of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from coal, oil and gas dissolves in the ocean, according to the Smithsonian Institute. Changes in the ocean’s chemistry since the Industrial Revolution have been recorded at an unprecedented rate. In the last two centuries alone, ocean water has become 30 percent more acidic — not even natural buffering can keep up.

Because seawater contains high levels of dissolved substances, Woods Hole Oceanic Institute notes that ocean waters have a slightly alkaline, or basic, pH of around 8.2. As more carbon builds up in the atmosphere, we see higher levels being absorbed in seawater to form carbonic acid, which breaks down to become more acidic as the pH level drops. Calcifying organisms like coral grow by adding calcium carbonate from the seawater to their shells or skeletons, but the researchers note that some species are disproportionately affected in their ability to repair or grow as these levels drop.

“The results also confirm that Ocean acidification could have repercussions on the competition between species which could, in turn, affect the ecological function of reefs,” said lead author Steeve Comeau. In their findings, two of the species were found to be resistant to OA from the start of the experiment while two others were too sensitive to acclimate. Those species that were able to adjust have different physiological mechanisms at play, but the team notes that they aren’t sure what they are or how they work.

Coral respond to bleaching events caused by stress from pollution, overexposure to sunlight, extreme low tides, and changes in ocean temperatures by repairing via this calcification process. However, a 2018 study found that OA impedes the thickening or growing process of coral and decreases skeleton density, making them more vulnerable to breaking. Climate change and the advent of the Anthropocene are only expected to worsen these effects. Oceana notes that before the Industrial Revolution, about 98 percent of coral reefs were surrounded by waters with ideal levels of aragonite, but today the proportion is less than half. A study published reported by CBS found that climate change has caused an 89 percent decrease in new coral in the Great Barrier Reef, further validating that coral reefs are threatened by climate change and its repercussions.

Long-term assessments of OA are scarce and the scientific community is limited in its understanding of how it impacts corals and coralline algae. We do know that if there is a 20 percent increase in current carbon dioxide levels over the next two decades, corals will grow slower and will be less able to overcome even normal pressures.

21-Year-Old Filmmaker Takes Audiences on a Provocative Journey to Save Coral Reefs http://ow.ly/1bb530eGnjl  @HealTheBay @therightblue
21-Year-Old Filmmaker Takes Audiences on a Provocative Journey to Save Coral Reefs

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