Colombia’s peace process has important implications for environmental policy. As the country begins the multi-year process of implementing last year’s peace accord, it is vital to balance environmental conservation with the need for sustainable economic development, said Luis Gilberto Murillo, Colombia’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, at an Inter-American Dialogue event on May 3rd.

Colombia’s environmental sector must play an important role in implementing several components of the accord, like integrated rural development and the eradication of coca cultivation, and the government is already making inroads. The environment ministry is working to pass a law that would allow the government to grant small campesino communities land titles in certain forest reserves in exchange for their commitment to protect the area. The government is also working to implement a policy that will pay communities for protecting these forest areas.

Environmental conservation can also be a means to help reintegrate former combatants, some of whom are uniquely qualified to work in this field, noted Minister Murillo. In many cases, former combatants have extensive knowledge of areas where there has been little or no state presence and can be hired to help carry out conservation efforts. The government also hopes to involve former FARC members into plans to eradicate 100,000 hectares of coca by the end of this year. A recent Inter-American Dialogue report, Peace and Environmental Protection in Colombia: Proposals for Sustainable Rural Development, looks in detail at these opportunities for environmental conservation resulting from the peace process and discusses best practices for sustainable rural development.

The successful implementation the peace accord is also critical to following through on Colombia’s Paris climate accord commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2030, as many of Colombia’s most pressing environmental challenges – illegal mining, land degradation, deforestation, illegal timber extraction and coca cultivation – are intimately linked to the conflict.

Colombia has made great strides towards these goals in recent years, said Minister Murillo. One of the Santos administration’s main strategies has been to demarcate additional protected areas in order to create a “green belt” and prevent the expansion of the agricultural frontier into environmentally sensitive areas. This has already paid dividends in reducing deforestation; from 2010-2015, the country saw a 56 percent decrease.

In the extractives sector, the minister noted that dialogue was needed both at the project level (among communities, companies and local governments) and at the national level to provide legal clarity and define the balance between environmental protection and economic development.

Looking forward, the government plans to demarcate additional protected wetlands, páramos and forest areas in addition to offering incentives for clean energy investment, implementing a carbon tax and introducing a tax on plastic bags.

View the full event recording here: