Can you imagine, on your next trip to the Lake District or the beautiful Brecon Beacons, seeing vast areas of burned-down forest being prepared with a concoction of chemicals for the mass plantation of coca, intended for cultivation and sale to UK drug users as cocaine?
Hard to believe, but this is what is happening in Colombia, which has the largest illegal trade of cocaine in the world – cocaine that is being sold on our door step. In fact, Europe is one of cocaine’s largest markets, of which the UK accounts for one of the largest shares.
The chilling figures on cocaine – in terms of both its widespread use and the rate at which it is destroying one of the most diverse, beautiful and environmentally dynamic places on this earth – pose two urgent, interrelated questions: how do we stop cocaine use, and how do we stop the production of cocaine in Colombia?
Colombia’s Vice President, Francisco Santos, believes that we are all responsible for the environmental destruction happening in his country; through his initiative, Shared Responsibility, he is spreading the message that we should therefore all help to avert it. In addition, Santos recently produced the documentary Sniffing the Rainforest, directed by Margarita Martinez, which gives those that have never been to Colombia or studied the issues a sense of the stark reality that his country now faces.
Yet there is another problem arising from the destruction of Colombia’s forests: climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that the deforestation is now contributing close to 20 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions – more than the entire global transportation sector and second only to the energy sector.
Rainforests cover less than six per cent of the Earth’s land, but they contain three quarters of its biodiversity. The Amazon rainforest, which covers 40 per cent of the South American continent and 35 per cent of Colombia, is alone responsible for 15 per cent of the planet’s oxygen supply.
Therefore, protecting Colombia’s rainforests will not only preserve biodiversity and reduce cocaine production, but also help in our struggle to prevent climate change. The UN’s Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD) was launched with these aims in mind. It works by putting an economic value on the preservation and sustainable management of forests, so that governments, developers and landowners in rainforest countries are incentivised to leave their forests intact rather than chop them down.
Aside from providing environmental benefits, UN-REDD could improve the lives of Colombia’s rainforest dwellers, who, as Sniffing the Rainforest depicts, often struggle to make a living. Although its projects are yet to be fully realised, UN-REDD represents a much-needed source of optimism for those, such as Vice President Santos, who are desperate to preserve Colombia’s remaining rainforests.