More than almost any other country in the world, Colombia addresses the central issues of the future: peace, climate, social justice. The new government of President Petro has dedicated itself to the fight to protect the Amazon, because the “green lungs of the world” are approaching the tipping point with irreversible damage and fatal consequences for the global climate. An analysis by Prof. Dr. Stefan Peters, Professor for Peace Research, Director of the German-Colombian Peace Institute Capaz.
Colombia is in a much-noticed transformation process: the peace process has produced initial results (final report of the Truth Commission, work of the Special Justice for Peace (JEP), reintegration of former guerrilla fighters) and is receiving new impetus under the new government of President Gustavo Petro and should, under the keyword “Paz Total”, enable the pacification of the remote and historically marginalized areas of the country as well as the demobilization of the still active illegal violent actors (guerrilla groups, (neo-)paramilitary groups, criminal gangs) and thus provide a central basis for urgently needed security sector reform.
President Petro’s new government is also committed to fighting climate change and protecting the Amazon – the world’s “green lung” – and is thus taking on a regional and international pioneering role. In addition, the new government is aiming for the gradual exit from fossil energy sources and a transition to renewable energy (especially wind and solar) as climate policy measures to promote local development processes and as an opportunity to diversify the export structure (green hydrogen). This transformation process also wants to reduce the extreme and historically persistent social inequalities in the country. At the same time, the rights of socially disadvantaged population groups that are particularly affected by the internal armed conflict (women, indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups, smallholders) are to be strengthened.
In short: Colombia is currently addressing the key future issues of the 21st century like hardly any other country in the world: peace, climate and social justice. This socio-ecological transformation agenda for a sustainable peace in Colombia offers broad starting points for German foreign and development policy with its focus on feminist approaches, climate protection and the promotion of a sustainable peace order based on international law. Latin America and Colombia in particular are key partners here, also in view of the increasing geopolitical tensions, not least because of the large overlaps in terms of common values (democracy, human rights, environmental protection).
On this basis, there are many opportunities for cooperation between Germany and Colombia on an equal footing, which, with a focus on promoting peace, climate protection and social justice, can spread to the Latin American region and beyond. The following five points must be observed here: • Peace, climate protection and social justice cannot be viewed in isolation, but must be addressed and worked on in their mutual relationships. The peace process offers the opportunity to strengthen climate protection and to promote social justice, including ESC rights. At the same time, neither climate protection nor peace-building can be successfully implemented without reducing extreme social inequalities and promoting social cohesion. Finally, initiatives to promote climate protection run the risk of being undermined by a lack of success in implementing the peace process and/or promoting social justice.
The current government’s agenda also includes agricultural reform and thus offers excellent starting points for promoting the three central challenges of peace, climate protection and social justice. The extreme unequal distribution of land ownership is a central cause of the armed conflict and an obstacle to a stable peace order. Agricultural reform with a focus on promoting social justice and ecological sustainability offers starting points for peace, food sovereignty and can also prevent the overexploitation of nature, including deforestation and the loss of biodiversity, and strengthen alternatives to the cultivation of illegal drugs. This requires the political will to reform and the promotion of agricultural, economic, legal and social science knowledge as a basis for the design of an economically, socially and ecologically sustainable agricultural reform.
With the announcement to phase out fossil energy sources, the Colombian government caused a broad international echo at the COP27 and can be considered a pioneer among the countries dependent on the export of fossil raw materials at the global level. Especially in view of the mixed results of the climate conference, it is now important to invest the funds from the climate damage fund sensibly. Colombia offers diverse potential for climate protection with a view to conserving the Amazon (see next point) and promoting renewable energies and can become a regional hub for the green hydrogen economy. The latter requires investments in future technologies, which are also of growing interest in view of growing geopolitical tensions and with a view to energy security.
However, when promoting green energy, it is important to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past in the exploitation of fossil energies. In short: climate-friendly green energy must promote social cohesion in Colombia, reduce inequalities in terms of income and energy supply, and avoid strengthening illegal violent actors, for example on the Caribbean coast. This requires strengthening local participation with a focus on empowering historically marginalized populations in decision-making and appropriating the economic returns from renewable energy.
In addition, the skepticism about an ambitious energy transition agenda must be accompanied by scientific expertise on the long-term potential of the energy transition and spread widely throughout society. Only in this way can green hydrogen production unfold its potential for sustainable development, including economic diversification and the stabilization or promotion of the peace process. The Amazon is approaching the tipping point and irreversible damage, with fatal consequences for the global climate. With ambitious goals, Colombia would like to play a pioneering role in the protection of the rainforest and thus serve as a role model for other Amazonian countries. This requires dedicated support – also in the Global North’s own interest. This should include a fair and sustainable use of biological resources, which enables the local communities to lead a dignified life and at the same time serves as protection against the overexploitation of nature. Corresponding policies can only succeed through cooperation on an equal footing with small farmers, indigenous people and the Afro-Colombian population and at the same time offer starting points for innovative approaches to environmental peace building.
The results of the ambitious Colombian agenda are also being followed closely by the new Brazilian government. A success of the Colombian strategy can trigger imitation effects, especially in Brazil, and thus be the starting point for a U-turn in Amazonian policy that is urgently needed for climate protection. • In the wake of a global increase in political authoritarianism, Latin America offers itself as a key alliance partner for the promotion and strengthening of democratic practices and values. However, they themselves are under pressure in the region. The regional structural feature of extreme social inequalities is particularly responsible for this.
Colombia aims for a democratic processing of the social question and has accepted and implemented long-standing scientific demands for a progressive tax reform. In addition, it is now necessary to support other approaches (gender equality, education, health, old-age provision) and in particular to intensify the promotion of historically marginalized population groups. Corresponding starting points fit perfectly with the goals of a feminist foreign and development policy, should place even more emphasis on intersectional perspectives and, in the sense of integral approaches, emphasize the importance of strengthening social justice for the promotion of sustainable peace and the fight against climate change.
At the same time, the peace process can be enhanced by consistently taking intersectional and socio-ecological perspectives when dealing with the past within the framework of transitional justice, promoting victim participation and transformative reparations with a focus on improving the living conditions of marginalized population groups to promote social justice and environmental and contribute to climate protection. In the current economic situation, Colombia offers a perhaps unique opportunity with an ambitious reform agenda to work on the future global issues of peace, climate protection and social justice within the framework of a political reform process, to develop a corresponding influence on the region and beyond and at the same time to strengthen democracy internally . In view of the foreseeable political, social and financial difficulties and obstacles in the implementation of the reforms, this requires committed support and exchange on an equal footing with international partners from politics, business, civil society and science.
Prof. Dr. Stefan Peters, Professor of Peace Research, is Director of the German-Colombian Peace Institute Capaz in Colombia and monitors the peace process in the country.