Home » Side Event: Aligning Drug Policy with Environmental Protection

Side Event: Aligning Drug Policy with Environmental Protection

Organized by the Transnational Institute with the support of Brazil, Colombia, the Global Drug Policy Observatory, Health Poverty Action, the International Drug Policy Consortium, the Open Society Foundation, Viso Mutop and the Washington Office on Latin America


Clemmie James, Health Poverty Action: Today, we will explore how punitive drug policies have accelerated environmental degradation and pose a serious threat to climate mitigation, adaptation and justice. This is a timely meeting of aligning drug policy with environmental protection. We will be proposing recommendations to ensure that the UN and national drug policies support, instead of undermining the collective efforts made by international community and millions of activists risking their lives to protect nature. My name is Clemmie James. I am a climate activist and I am the Senior Policy and Campaigns Officer at Health Poverty Action. I’m also the coordinator of the Drug Policy Reform and Environmental Justice Coalition, of which members of this panel sit with me. We are delighted today to be joined by the Colombian and the Brazilian delegation, two countries who are guardians to one of our planet’s largest carbon sinks and most precious rainforest, the Amazon. So without further ado, I would like to introduce to you Jhon Alexander Rojas Cabrera, Governor of Nariño from Colombia.

(Opening Remarks) Jhon Alexander Rojas Cabrera, Governor of Nariño, Colombia: Hello to all I’m the Governor of Nariño, another victim of the conflict in Colombia. The FARC killed my father 25 years ago. Reconciliation and pardon changed my life and the life of my family. And since then, I have dedicated myself to being a defender of peace for greater well-being for my daughters, for our sons, and for the Narinians and all Colombians. I am here to accompany the Vice President of Colombia who is in Mexico, with the negotiations of the ELN. We continue to support the process, including the total peace that our President Gustavo Petro has proposed. I thank United Nations and the UNODC, the Foreign Ministry Vice Minister Laura Gil, the Ambassador and all the team of the Embassy for my participation. And thank you to all the institutions and activists who defend the environment.

Nariño is in Southwest Colombia. 33% of 1.6 million people are part of an ethnic population. We have a geostrategic place because the Pacific, the Andes, and the Amazon are parts of our state. We have UNESCO heritages including the Carnival and mopa-mopa. We have biodiversity richness. Unfortunately, 56,000 hectares of coca are cultivated in Nariño. This is 28% of the total coca cultivation in Colombia. This represents $174 million for 361 million kilograms of coca, $251 million for coca paste and $386 million for cocaine hydrochloride per year.

Drug control policy based on glyphosate and aerial spraying and forced eradication have failed in Nariño. After a week of aspersions, particularly in our zone, this has contributed to an increase in cultivation. We had demonstrated that it is not a solution. It is a policy that has failed and has had negative consequences in the security of people. In 2022, there have been 417 homicides. 46% have died in the municipality of Tumaco. They have assassinated 32 social leaders, 19 of them indigenous, 4 Afro, 3 community leaders and 1 peasant leader. There are 13 structures that are at the margin of the law and disputed territory.

This conflict has brought us to this issue where the conclusion I can make is that there is a global market that is growing, demanding the consumption of drugs. Nariño with our social and geographic conditions, we understand that we have a business and commercialization that come from the coca and the presence of non-state actors while the state presence has been weak. Therefore, we propose that we need to do a gradual transformation of this illegal to legal economy. We’re proposing an integrated development plan in our zone where Tumaco can be a strategic port for Colombia and to connect us with Brazil. The defence of the environment and the search for total peace is what we’re looking for so the Afro-indigenous and campesinos brothers and sisters can live in peace. We want to reduce the illegal logging and illegal cultivation because that is putting our environment at risk. For that reason, our request is that these diverse territories will be given the support from all nations.

Kendra McSweeney, Ohio State University: Two weeks ago, I was visiting this mangrove wetland on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. It’s a small but vital part of the 147 million ha of mangroves that encircle the globe, providing key ecosystem services like carbon capture and storage, coastal protection, and fisheries enhancement. This is why the IPCC urges mangrove protection worldwide, and it’s why these Costa Rican wetlands are recognized under the international Ramsar Convention for their biological and economic importance to coastal peoples’ livelihoods—including the eco-tourism operation that I was part of. But as I learned on that trip, the future of these mangroves hinges less on biodiversity conventions and more on the drug policies that are being discussed here in Vienna, this week. Our superb guide Carlos made the connections clear.

He told us that over the past six years—ever since the U.S. Coast Guard had increased pressures on high-seas trafficking—smugglers running cocaine and marijuana by boat from Colombia to northern Central America had been using the wetlands for drug storage and fuel provisioning, and paying locals unheard-of sums to ferry gasoline to them. The effects of their activities are inescapable. New access channels are being cut through the mangroves. Young men are leaving fishing and ecotourism for the easy money from facilitating drug movements; some have gone to jail, some have been killed. Others are laundering illicit earnings in the fishing and ecotourism businesses, in ways that make it much harder for legitimate businesses like Carlos’ to compete, and which put further pressure on already-diminished fish stocks. Others are using drug dollars to expand oil palm plantations and cattle pasture into the wetlands. It’s illegal, but no one speaks out about these environmentally destructive dynamics because no one trusts each other any more—not members of fishing cooperatives, not neighbors, not the police.

In effect, Carlos summarized—in this small but vital site–what I and my collaborators have spent the past 10 years documenting at larger scales across Central and South America, and what other researchers and organizations have shown elsewhere across the tropics.  And that is: that the global drug regime is orthogonal to building the sorts of environmental and climate resilience that the planet urgently needs. Let me scale out from Carlos’ insights to highlight the three mechanisms by which this happens.  I base my comments on a compelling body of evidence—a small part of which we brought here for you to consult for details.

(Mechanism 1) Prohibition landscapes

First, I want to be clear that I am NOT talking about the impact of drug crop production on the environment. That will be addressed by other speakers. What I’m talking about is why dramatic environmental harms concentrate in spaces of drug transit and are associated with the investment of drug profits there. And that originates in the fact that counternarcotic police and military actions push traffickers into evermore remote frontier areas, often protected areas and indigenous homelands. But these areas aren’t just logistically convenient. They are also frontiers—that is, from a business perspective, some of the world’s most under-capitalized spaces. That makes them ideal for absorbing surplus capital by turning forests and indigenous agroforestry systems into oil palm plantations, cattle pasture, or whatever. These are great ways to launder dollars and diversify income and asset portfolios. In sum: for drug traffickers, destroying forests is logistically and financially best-practice.

(Mechanism 2) Prohibition economies

Just as Carlos made clear, the profitability of drug trafficking means that the drug trade can seriously distort rural economies. No legitimate activity can compete with a trade that generates billions of dollars annually. In some Central American countries, profits from cocaine transshipment have in some years exceeded direct foreign investment, as well the value of agricultural exports. The tsunami of drug dollars pulls rural land and labor out of food production, increases the price of staple goods, and, further, subsidizes extractive activities like illegal gold mining, wildlife trafficking, and illegal timber harvests. These “environmental crimes” are not separate from the drug trade; they are more often than not made possible by capital from it.

(Mechanism 3) Prohibition governance

The IPCC’s recent ‘Climate Change and Land’ report identifies ‘policy levers’ that can protect existing forests and restore degraded forestlands, such as capacity building to support resilient, biodiverse food production systems, and democratic, responsive governance systems to manage land at multiple scales. But what happens when existing forests and lands ripe for restoration are coveted or controlled by organized criminals enriched by the drug trade? Clear evidence shows that the effective management required for their protection or restoration is undercut by the violent power of organized crime, who will always prioritize their business needs over environmental protection. And as we know all too well, they will kill or compromise anyone who might stand in their way.

There is just too much money in the drug trade, too much power to control the fate of too much of the world’s lands and forests.  We have learned from 50 years of counter narcotic policy that there is virtually no amount of military aid, or development aid, or anti-corruption initiatives, or governance capacity-building, that can compete. Anyone on the ground in the world’s tropical frontiers knows this. And they know why. Because they understand what makes narcos so rich and powerful in the first place. People like Carlos know—in fact, he had an enviably straightforward analysis of the social and environmental problems he was witnessing in his community. The problem, he said, was that drugs were illegal. Being illegal made their trade risky, which made them expensive. Which meant lots of money. He was emphatic that there will always be demand for drugs. He said that controlling drugs in the way that alcohol is controlled was probably a good path forward. But not just in one place, he cautioned. As you can read here, he also made a good case for global, legal regulation.

[* Carlos’ quote:

“If you make it legal here, but it stays illegal there, problems will get worse. People will just bring [drugs] to the place where it’s more expensive. So it has to be: everybody [regulates] the same way. Because if it’s only isolated actions—that doesn’t work.” ]

So to align drug policy with environmental protection, I think we should listen.

Dave Bewley-Taylor, Global Drug Policy Observatory:

I’d like to begin with a quote from the year 2000 by the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. I’d like to just highlight the final sentence, which I will read. “Although scientists are now able to appreciate the complexity of this web of interacting natural processes, we’re still a very long way from understanding how they all fit together.”

And I think we can argue that this idea of complexity and the processes to improve understanding of how things fit together can be applied not only to our growing understanding of interconnected environmental processes, but also intersecting international issue area regimes and the notion of global governance more generally, including in relation to protection of the environment. And indeed, only few years after this quote, the International Law Commission established a study group to look at the topic of the fragmentation of international law. And within academia, particularly within the discipline of international relations. We see around the same time the emergence in the literature of the concept of regime complexes. Now, while typically in academia, I guess there’s no agreed definition, what we’re really talking about here is an array of partially overlapping and non-hierarchical institutions governing a particular issue area. There is general agreement that such a situation generates what we can call rule complexity, and that regime intersection is characterised by complementarity as well as often times, and I would argue more frequently by tension and conflict. So in terms of international drug policy, then, this is in many ways, I think, another dimension of the age old problem of system wide coherence. And this is something that Kendra alluded to. And arguably, however, when working towards coherence, it’s getting more and more pressing as there’s a growing understanding of how what’s often referred to as the global drug control regime or various variations of that, and then a range of related policy interventions beneath that intersect with an array of interconnected, elemental regimes or regime complexes, including those relating to two associated areas, human rights,and then within that indigenous rights, and the environment. After all, drug policy at all levels of governance is a classic example of a cross-cutting issue. And these are issues that were flagged up by the CND chair in his opening remarks.

Now, I think it’s fair to say that what goes on here in Vienna, it’s been quite slow to appreciate these interconnections. And furthermore, where the connection is made, some actors inevitably remain resistant. And while progress has certainly been achieved in some areas, there often remain significant tensions. And of course, the example for this is between drug policy and human rights we’ve seen in many parts of the commission over the week. Now, clearly there has been progress, but more work certainly needs to be done. And closely related to Indigenous rights in particular is a currently far less visible regime intersection where more work definitely needs to be done. And this relates to global drug control and what we can define as the global environmental regime or regime complex, including within that what we might want to define as the biodiversity regime complex. And I think biodiversity is an issue that often gets overlooked in the very welcome debate about drug policy and climate change. And of course, it’s very important in relation to a range of policies targeting crops deemed to be illicit but also in relation to what happens around transit hubs.

So this slide is really an early attempt just to map drug policy on top of existing intersections within the biodiversity complex and identify points of tension. This is just what I want to highlight is the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity. And this is particularly relevant to our discussions in light of the recent COP15 meeting and the 30 by 30 Target. Within the CBD, there’s explicit recognition for the first time that conservation of biological diversity is a common concern for humankind and an integral part of the development process. And within this context, I think it is in many ways positive to see last year the passage of the annual Alternative Development Resolution 65/1, which within the title as well as the content spoke about measures to protect the environment. And amongst other things, the resolution flagged up the work of the CBD and crucially encouraged Member States to deploy relevant human development indicators. And as many of you probably know, within the COW at the moment, there’s discussions about L.3. There’s lots of good things in L.3, particularly the explicit mention of indigenous peoples that would be capital I, capital P, but we’d have to see what survives negotiations as the week moves on. Now, this point about indicators and metrics I think is crucial in moving away from generalised and abstract discussions and to highlight the need to start thinking in very practical terms about how to facilitate and where necessary, soften these regime interfaces. And in fact, the CBD sets up a framework for impact ,assessment and minimising adverse impacts, that’s under Article 14. But I think we can and should go further on this, for example, along similar lines to the idea of introducing human rights risk and impact assessments for new laws and drug policies. Why not work on developing a specific biodiversity risk assessment framework to model environmental impacts.

So to conclude then, as it’s been argued elsewhere, as complexity and regime intersections increase, I think we’re likely to see the emergence of a new architecture within which international drug policy operates. And where the environment is concerned, to borrow the earlier terminology, there now exists a web of interactions involving system wide initiatives like the SDGs, crucial documents like the UN system common position on drugs, a range of actors beyond member states, so UN agencies, NGOs, and then above this an array of regimes and associated state obligations. The key point is state obligations. So perhaps we might want to call this the global governance complex for drug control. I don’t know. But whichever way it’s framed, the often conflictual relationship between drug policy and the protection of biological diversity and how that relates to indigenous rights is an issue that’s too important to ignore and deserves increased attention at all levels of governance, including here in Vienna, and particularly as we prepare for the mid-term review next year.

Pedro Arenas, Corporación Viso Mutop: I am Pedro Arenas, I work for the Viso Mutop Corporation, we accompany rural communities, we monitor issues of land, environment, coca cultivation, cannabis, and we review the impact of drug policies on human rights. I come from the south east of Colombia, from Meta and Guaviare. Where I live, it rains 8 months of the year and we have large tributary rivers of the Orinoco and the Amazon. Our ecosystems are the transition between the Andes and the great Amazon biome, key to the balance of the planet. Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world. We have several environmental land-use planning systems: National Natural Parks, Indigenous Reserves and Afro-descendant Community Councils.

In the last 20 years, more than 3,100,000 hectares have been deforested in Colombia, according to the Ministry of Environment. Of these, 1,800,000 hectares were in the Amazon. 90,000 hectares per year in this region alone. One of the causes associated with deforestation is coca cultivation. 52% of the crops are in environmentally managed areas: 21% in black communities’ lands; 17% in forest reserves; 4% in natural parks; and 10% in indigenous lands. But at the national level in 2021, coca accounted for 8% of the total deforestation, according to the Global Drug Report. For example, the Institute for Environmental Studies, IDEAM, reported that during 2021, in Guaviare, 25,000 hectares were deforested, although coca was planted on around 7,000 hectares. Something has to be explained here, as more forest was deforested than coca was planted. I can testify, as a former coca collector, that coca was the mainstay of a process of internal colonisation in which peasant families sought land in areas where there were no state institutions, in the absence of agrarian reform in the centre of the country. In the early 1980s, coca was grown close to populated centres, but since the adoption of the first anti-narcotics law, coca cultivation has moved further and further away. The first big wave of deforestation has occurred since the adoption of the first anti-narcotics law. Coca crops cause environmental risks and damage. This is true. Growers use herbicides and products made by big chemical companies to make their plants grow faster. And they use large amounts of gasoline, cement, potassium permanganate, ammonia, sulphuric and other chemical agents in the processing of coca base paste. It is also true that the waste from coca leaf processed with such chemicals is often dumped untreated on the ground and into water sources. The environmental impacts of coca cultivation include deforestation, which destroys key biological corridors for fauna and flora, affects insects and bees in particular, and causes soil and water contamination as well. This is most severe where coca cultivation for base paste becomes a monoculture, families may forget to grow their own food, and the illegality of this activity opens space for disputes between armed actors. To eliminate crops and reduce the supply of cocaine, the State arrived in these territories with military bases and police posts. A weak civil institutionality gave way to security agendas. This is how anti-drug programs arose and were applied. The herbicide glyphosate had been used since the late 1970s against marijuana crops in the Santa Marta region –in the north of the country-, and starting in 1994, the government ordered massive aerial spraying campaigns against coca crops. Throughout the last 21 years, our territories have been fumigated with agrochemicals, from the air and with combat planes, in the midst of strong ground militarization, an aspect that increased during the time of Plan Colombia. Coca crops moved from one place to another more and more, reaching Indigenous Reservations, Natural Parks and collective territories of black communities. Currently, despite those programs, there are more crops than 20 years ago. The numbers have already been tallied here: Nearly 5 million acres were sprayed by air and more than 2 million acres by land. Tens of thousands of base paste processing infrastructures have been destroyed, by the authorities, without any environmental protocol. Tons of chemical waste have been incinerated in the middle of the forests, drifting into water sources and soils as well.

So the actions to reduce the supply have caused a doubling of deforestation, dispersed crops to areas of greater environmental importance, affected food crops, impacted the biological cycle of fauna and flora, particularly insects such as bees, and contaminated sources of water. In addition, these sprays were applied without protocols to protect human health, which also meant a victimization of people to whom the State has not yet repaired.

The most alarming thing, added to the above, has been the perverse effect of these drug policies. Thousands of families were displaced from their properties (in my region half the population is displaced, according to figures from the Victims Unit), due to aerial spraying, the loss of their food security, the bankruptcy of their economy peasantry and by the armed conflict. The impoverishment of the peasantry and the lack of opportunities provided by the State have facilitated in recent years a model that facilitates the hoarding of land in the hands of a few; the grazing of the jungle and unsustainable extensive cattle ranching that deforests more than coca crops for cocaine. This means that although coca crops are not currently the main reason for deforestation, they did become the spearhead of the expansion of the agricultural frontier. 

Sylvia Kay, Transnational Institute: As all previous interventions have made plain, drugs are unequivocally an environmental issue. Looking ahead, I would like to recommend three opportunities where the debate around the environmental impacts of drugs and drug policy can be taken forward:

  1. The first recommendation is to integrate the environmental impacts of drug policy into the 2024 mid-term review of international drug policy commitments as reflected in the 2019 CND Ministerial Declaration. The modalities resolution for this review as adopted for this year’s CND sets out the process and format for such a review process, including the organisation of “Two interactive, multi-stakeholder round tables, in parallel with the plenary meetings, on the topics ‘Taking stock: work undertaken since 2019’ and ‘The way forward: the road to 2029 and beyond’.

I would argue that in light of government commitments coming out of both the climate and biodiversity COPs, it is crucial that the environmental concerns in relation to drugs and drug policy are integrated into this review process and in the plans for the coming five-year period. As the UN Secretary General has said, “Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century.. It must be the top, top priority for everyone, everywhere.” And it is notable in this respect that for the first time, the 2022 UNODC World Drug Report included a special booklet on drugs and the environment. This can be a useful platform to build on for this review process. However, I would argue that in this review process, the international drug policy community must acknowledge the breadth and severity of the environmental impacts associated with drug control policies, particularly for countries in the Global South, and member states should commit themselves to reforming policies to eliminate this damage. Some of our more detailed proposals for doing so are contained in a response that a number of organisations issued to respond to the World Drug Report and the special booklet, copies of which can also be found in the corner of the room. So I would encourage you to read it.

  1. The second recommendation can be summed up as ‘don’t go it alone’. The agreement of the UN Common Position on Drugs and linkages to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda are all welcome developments that can help to foster UN system wide coherence and overcome some of the regime contradictions and blindspots that were spoken of earlier.

There is much scope, certainly at in-country programme level but also at international regime level, for greater inter-agency collaboration between UNODC and e.g. UNEP, UNDP, FAO to enhance understanding of the drugs-environment-development nexus. Such inter-agency collaboration could help in the formulation of an environmental harm reduction approach that can be used to submit drug control policies to an environmental stress test or risk assessment framework. This would not only put an end to harmful drug control strategies such as forced eradication or ill-conceived alternative development programmes, but can be used to prevent future harm moving forward. So that’s the second recommendation about breaking silos, inter-agency collaboration and environmental harm reduction and risk assessment framework.

  1. The third recommendation is around how best to integrate environmental standards within models of legal regulation. Taking the example of cannabis, the environmental record in jurisdictions where cannabis has been regulated is decidedly mixed. On the one hand, we see the emergence of a standards, testing and trade regime that is driving a lot of cultivation indoors, where, inter alia, the use of high-intensity grow lights contributes to high greenhouse gas emissions. This has come at the expense of legacy cannabis growers, including in traditional producing countries in the Global South where sungrown cannabis cultivation is the norm.

On the other hand, the design of environmental standards cannot become so onerous and complex that it generates barriers to entry for those wishing to transition from the illicit to licit market. This cumbersome bureaucracy has for example been identified as one of the main reasons for the continuance of an extensive illicit cannabis market even in jurisdictions where cannabis has been regulated, allowing only bigger players to successfully navigate the market. This not only facilitates corporate capture but, without proper safeguards in place, also opens the door to industry greenwashing.

A number of the organisations represented here today have been engaging over the years in dialogues with governments, operators, civil society groups and growers, about models of cannabis regulation that allow for social equity and environmental sustainability to go hand in hand. There are lessons to be learned – both positive and negative – from experiences with transitions from illicit to regulated markets. It is important that the CND can provide a space where these lessons can be socialised and where honest debate/frank exchange can take place.

This is salient not only in terms of cannabis reform but also in light of the call by the governments of Bolivia and Colombia for an independent review process of the scheduling of the coca leaf. We have heard in a number of side events on this issue, that have included also lived testimony from cocalero, peasant and indigenous communities, the human rights and environmental harms that follow from the persecution of particular plants and the perverse and unintended consequences of punitive drug control policies. Repairing this rupture of humans from nature that prohibition has engendered must be a central priority for all concerned in aligning drug policy with environmental protection.

(Closing Remarks) Marta Machado, National Secretary for Drug Policy, Brazil: I thank the Transnational Institute for organising this session. I think it’s extremely urgent that we connect drug policies with environmental protection. And when we talk about environment, the kind of urgency we have is exceptional. I thank my colleagues, I was really impressed with their presentations. I just want to give a final comment on the situation on the Brazilian Amazon. I think you all know that the last government interrupted the surveillance on the Amazon. In fact, the government exonerated officials who have acted against organised crime, defended the invasion of Indigenous land and supported illegal mining. So during the last government, Brazil reached the highest deforestation rates in 15 years. The destruction of the Amazon was raised to historic levels. Illegal mining also has raised and expanded, especially inside Indigenous territories as never before with dramatic consequences. As you all saw there, the recent images of the Yanomami people who were dying of many diseases that came with illegal mining outside the rivers and they had no food. So the fact that the government created this free zone without surveillance, it created this incentivised coalition between networks of drug trafficking and environmental organised crime. They are now sharing the infrastructure and logistics. They are using the same routes for transportation. And the illegal mine has always been a source of money laundering. So the most important drug cartel in Brazil is now deeply involved with the organised crime in Amazonia. And I would make a bracket and say that this big drug cartel in Brazil was also strengthened after decades of politics of mass incarceration. And the previous drug policy has a lot to do with that result. I wanted to mention that within the situation there is a constant violence against the indigenous population. They are expelled from the territories, the rivers have been poisoned and there is a progressive involvement also with the local populations in different chains of this network. I must say that our main problem is not crops, but the transit and other chains of the organised crime. And finally, indigenous women are constant victims of sexual violence. So this is just to make a brief description of what we live in and how urgent it is that we tackle this problem together

The Ministry of Justice just published a programme that’s called Amazonía Más Segura, Safer Amazon. And there is federal police operation to try to expel illegal mining from Indigenous lands and to apprehend all their equipment and etc. But besides that, we’re also sending health care, social assistance and territorial development. This is one of the discussions we are having here at the CND. How can we adapt the idea of alternative development to foster territorial development in the Amazonia and combining it with environmental protection. We are now also changing the law on the gold chain. There was, in fact, a problem in our legislation that make that traceability very weak. But I also would like to call the responsibility of the global financial market that are receiving gold from illegal mining in Brazil. And that comes from deforestation and the violation of indigenous rights. So that was really just to call attention to the situation and to reinforce my colleague’s speech on the importance of this panel.


  1. What do you think about the need of instruments such as the payment for ecosystem services to coca crop farmers or anyone who is cultivating crops for illegal trade? I think that’s an instrument to help with this transition to legal economy, but also to stop that frontier moving to the forest.

Sylvia Kay, Transnational Institute: I think it’s an interesting proposal and there has been some experiments also in Colombia with payments for ecosystem services in the context of potentially coca transitions. The only note of caution I would introduce here is that payments for ecosystem services benefit those that already are owners of environmental assets because the payments have to be directed to certain beneficiaries and often the beneficiaries that are recognised are those already with land titles or who already have some kind of ownership or management of particular environmental goods and services. And so for populations that have been displaced, for example, or otherwise landless populations, how that payments for ecosystem services can be structured to benefit those kind of groups is just one concern I have with that mechanism. But I think it’s certainly an interesting incentive and reward scheme and to support communities that are really guardians of the environment. So certainly holds promise. But there are also some notes of caution.

Pedro Arenas, Corporación Viso Mutop: Our President is trying to save the Amazonia. He said we would pay them the economic value every month during the next 20 years. That value would be $600 a month—that would be the price of today. Our government would need funds to be able to do something like that. Practically, it is a proposal that doesn’t have the prices for services. That would really leave behind the communities who cultivate coca and it would be a focus on how do we restore forests. Regarding payment for environmental services to some communities, we have practiced this within the contract where the state doesn’t you paper for the land but it gives you a concession to the families so that they can use that land for a certain amount of time. In the previous government, it was 10 years. The families said this doesn’t give us enough legal standing so they asked for more years. And so these concessions to the families should be long term, at least 30 years, so that there is security and stability in these agreements. And finally, we have a great worry with these carbon payments that in some cases, they aren’t really looking at how to save the Amazon. And for some of them, there have been speculations about economic gain that aren’t about the rights of families that live in these areas.

  1. I just want to reaffirm what Pedro was saying. A country without property owners can’t really think about long-term policies. We need coca cultivators that are owners of their land not that they loan them the land because loaned land is not taken care of. When it’s your own land, you take care of it and you can administer it with love. We used up loaned land and sometimes give it to mafia for illegal mining, cattle ranching or drug trafficking but we need a country of property owners. In the Amazon, there are serious problems with land ownership and instability because it is not legally constituted for protected lands. We have serious problems where people see the green of the forest but they don’t see the people who live in them. So we urgently need an agreement between the government and community agents on legal land ownership so that we can have a long term public policy.

Clemmie James, Health Poverty Action: I think that brings us to the end. And I just want to encourage you all to be curious. Be bold. For many people, the environment is a new thing. It’s the defining issue of our time. It can feel really overwhelming. But we have to include it in all of our work. And hopefully in years to come, we will see the change that we’re all part of.


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