Colombian Amazon gets reprieve from mining; WWF supports precautionary principle for future development



Posted on 21 November 2012  | 
Chocó Department, Colombia
© WWF-Canon / Diego M. GarcesEnlarge
In August 2012, before leaving the job, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development Frank Pearl suspended all administrative processes that would allow mining activities in areas currently protected as part of the Amazon Forest Reserve. Under this resolution, no new requests for area subtraction of forest reserve will move forward until the ministry develops the necessary environmental zoning, planning and management throughout this reserve and sets out the areas for strict protection and sustainable use areas.

While this is a temporary suspension, WWF applauds the ministry for applying the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle is part of Colombia’s environmental law and is founded on the need for caution in the absence of certainty. The principle includes two basic elements.
1. The need for decision makers to anticipate harm before it happens, that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or the environment, and in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof lies with the proponent of the activity.
2. The establishment of an obligation for control measures even in the absence of scientific certainty. The need for control measures increases with both the degree of possible harm and the degree of uncertainty.

What’s at stake? 
The Amazon Forest Reserve constitutes the largest forest reserve in Colombia, with nine departments and 88 municipalities. The geographic isolation of the Amazon Forest Reserve has contributed to its preservation and made it one of the most important areas of high biodiversity in the country and the world. Sixty different ecosystems have been defined in this region, and they support 674 identified bird species, 158 species of amphibians, 195 species of reptiles, 212 mammals species and 753 fish species.

In addition to biological wealth, the region is also home to other resources of economic value. Mining, both legal and illegal, is a growing threat to biodiversity and the maintenance of critical ecosystem services provided by the region.

The path forward
All decisions and policies on mining should incorporate Environmental Strategic Analysis and Conservation Planning tools that enable the consideration of all potential (direct and indirect) environmental impacts. Such analysis can also help in the formulation of plans to restore areas affected by mining, and reduce potential environmental degradation. The Precautionary Principle should be applied to all the areas defined as Strategic Mining Reserves for the Andean region, the Orinoco and Chocó, where environmental planning and zoning as well as strategic environmental assessments are needed.

WWF’s role
The expansion of mining (among other activities) without consideration of environmental factors creates social and environmental risks. Given Colombia’s rich biological and cultural heritage, and the compounding effects that climate change can have on the highly vulnerable ecosystems upon which human populations depend, WWF urges restraint. We advocate incorporating environmental consideration at the strategic level of planning and decision-making. WWF will work for adequate protection of areas of high conservation value, dialogue with all stakeholders, developing and testing criteria for identifying “no go zones” in WWF priority ecoregions and elimination of destructive mining practices.

What next?
While the current suspension is welcome news for conservation in the Colombian Amazon, important challenges remain. The same document clarifies that the resolution shall finish “once the environmental planning and zoning of the reserve is concluded,” and it is clear which areas must be strictly protected and which can be used under sustainability parameters. According to the Ministry of Environment, this process could take at least two years, though Colombian law states that five years are available to accomplish the job.
Chocó Department, Colombia
© WWF-Canon / Diego M. Garces Enlarge

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Donate to WWF

Your support will help us build a future where humans live in harmony with nature.