25 young Colombians are suing the government over climate change

Farc rebels watch a live broadcast of the peace agreement signing from the remote Yari plains, where the accord was ratified in November 2016. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Deforestation in Colombia increased 44% since 2015, despite the government's Paris commitment to reach net zero by 2020

Twenty-five Colombian youths – one as young as seven – are suing the government for failing to protect the environment and prevent deforestation in the Amazon.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind in Latin America, and demands the Colombian government protect young people’s rights to a healthy environment, life, food and water.

On 29th January, the group of young plaintiffs – all of whom are under 26 and come from 17 cities and municipalities across the country – filed a “tutela”, a special action in Colombia’s Constitution protecting fundamental rights.

Lawyer César Rodríguez, director of Colombian NGO Dejusticia, is acting on behalf of the youths. He said: “Just as cities like New York and San Francisco have sued oil companies for their role in fuelling climate change and a court ordered the Netherland’s government to reduce its carbon emissions, we are asking that Colombia fulfills its prior commitments to tackle climate change.”

At the 2015 climate change conference in Paris, President Juan Manuel Santos committed to reach zero net deforestation by 2020. But the youths say the increasing deforestation in the Colombian Amazon is threatening their rights.

After Farc

In July 2016, Colombia’s Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM), announced deforestation had increased by 44% since 2015, with 34% occurring in the Amazon. The majority of deforestation occurred in remote areas once controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

Since the historic peace agreement was signed in late 2016, many previously inaccessible areas have been subjected to large-scale agriculture, logging, illegal mining and road infrastructure projects.

Farc had ordered civilians to maintain 20% of their land with forest cover, in order to protect guerrillas from government air raids. No longer controlled by Farc, farmers have been able to expand.