23 Nov 2018 Press release Forests

Religious and indigenous leaders join forces on initiative to end tropical deforestation in Colombia

Bogota, 22 November 2018 – In an unprecedented and historic show of unity, leaders from every major faith tradition today joined indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombian communities, climate scientists, and NGOs in pledging to defend the Amazon and end deforestation.

The Interfaith Rainforest Initiative in Colombia was launched today at an event in Bogota convened by UN Environment and a coalition of Colombian and global multi-faith partners. Through the initiative, religious leaders from diverse spiritual traditions come together to express the urgent moral responsibility they share to put an end to the destruction of Colombia's forests and protect indigenous peoples forest guardians.

“Forest protection and restoration is one of the best tools we have to tackle climate change. We’ve made some good progress in recent years, but deforestation is sadly on the rise again in many parts of the world,” said Joyce Msuya, Deputy Head of UN Environment. “In our push to do better, the commitment, moral voice and influence that faith leaders have is both welcome and urgently needed.”

These new allies come together at a pivotal moment in Colombia’s history. Under the Paris Climate Agreement, the government committed to dramatically reduce deforestation by 2020. And the nation’s highest court recently recognized the Amazon as a subject with rights. Yet forest loss in Colombia—among the most biodiverse countries in the world—has soared since the peace agreement was signed with the FARC, in 2016. Worldwide, more than 40 football fields of tropical forests are disappearing every minute, mostly due to illegal logging and to make room for cattle and palm oil; other important factors include forest fires, new highway construction and illicit coca cultivation. Colombia, which lost almost 220,000 hectares of forest in 2017, is among the top ten countries experiencing dramatic levels of deforestation.

The initiative recognizes the urgent need not only to protect forests, but also to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and the rights of forest and afro-descendant communities. A growing body of evidence shows that indigenous and other forest communities outperform all other managers of tropical forests when their rights are recognized and protected. Indigenous Peoples in Colombia have secured the title of 23 million ha of their ancestral territories in the Amazon, which represents 75% of the Colombian Amazon. But their rights do not extend below the soil, leaving local communities vulnerable to extractive industries with powerful commercial interests and, all too often, the threat of violence.

According to the Nacional Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), in the last two years, at least 68 indigenous community members have been murdered and 5,730 people have been forced to flee their homes.

Colombia is not alone in seeing a rise in deforestation and violence against its forest peoples. In the last decade alone, scientists estimate the earth has lost an area of tropical forests the size of the United Kingdom, France and Germany combined. Extractive industries and the production of agricultural products like beef, soy, palm oil, and pulp and paper are driving tropical deforestation. Throughout the world, corruption, weak governance, inefficient land use and unsustainable consumption patterns are among the main factors undermining voluntary commitments by governments and industry.


About the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative

The Interfaith Rainforest Initiative is an international, multi-faith alliance that aims to bring moral urgency and faith-based leadership to global efforts to end tropical deforestation.  It is a platform for religious leaders to work hand-in-hand with indigenous peoples, governments, civil society and businesses on actions that protect rainforests and safeguard those that serve as their guardians. UN Environment is implementing the initiative with the support of the Government of Norway.

About UN Environment

The United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) is the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system, and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment. Its mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

For more information contact

UN Environment Newsdesk