Colombia’s former president says COVID-19 shows the importance of listening to indigenous peoples on how we treat the planet

bogota

(Flavia Carpio, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Juan Manuel Santos, Former President of Colombia, 2016 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate


  • Former President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos implores world leaders to listen to indigenous peoples, especially on the environment.
  • The coronavirus pandemic is yet another global threat requiring us to reimagine our relationship with nature.
  • As more leaders retreat from science and global collaboration, the wisdom of indigenous peoples can show us the way.

The day I became president of Colombia in 2010, our “older brothers” – the indigenous peoples that inhabit the mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta – gave me some important advice: “Seek peace and reconciliation among Colombians but also with Mother Nature because she is mad, and she is mad because she has been severely mistreated.”

Today, that advice is an urgent warning, one that every person and government on Earth must heed.

Humanity and nature are further out of alignment than ever before. The world has seen species decline, and 1 million are under threat of extinction. Temperatures are rising, bringing flood and fire across the globe. A pandemic likely unleashed by man’s intrusions into nature is devastating economies and lives.

These global threats can only be addressed only through global action. Yet most nations still cling to the illusion that they can survive in isolation, that their borders can somehow magically protect them while the rest of the planet burns.

I understand this impulse. But I am calling on my fellow national leaders to reject it. Instead, we must reimagine our relationship with nature, and follow the guidance of indigenous peoples.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

A new strain of Coronavirus, COVID 19, is spreading around the world, causing deaths and major disruption to the global economy.

Responding to this crisis requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

The Forum has created the COVID Action Platform, a global platform to convene the business community for collective action, protect people’s livelihoods and facilitate business continuity, and mobilize support for the COVID-19 response. The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

Although they make up only 5% of the global population, indigenous peoples sustain many of the healthiest ecosystems on Earth. They manage more than one-quarter of all land on the planet, while protecting about 80% of global biodiversity.

On my inauguration day, I met with indigenous leaders to symbolically seek their permission to assume power. They agreed and gave me a baton of authority and a necklace with four stones. The first represented the land that we must take care of. The second symbolized the water that is the source of life. The third stone was for the nature with which we must live in harmony. And the final stone symbolized the government, which must respect the order of nature and the will of the Creator.

These leaders transformed my vision of Earth and its resources. They reminded me that nationhood does not trump humanity, and that humanity cannot be separate from nature.

I spent the next eight years as president with this in mind. My administration ended the terrible human and environmental toll of Colombia’s half-century of civil war, put an area larger than Germany under permanent protection and implemented a carbon tax to fight climate change.

President Santos with indigenous women in 2018.
President Santos with indigenous women in 2018.
Image: César Carrión – SIG (Presidency of Colombia)

These actions were good for Colombia, and for the planet. Colombia is the most biodiverse country per square kilometre in the world, the home of unique coastal, marine and mountain ecosystems that benefit the entire region. But these same features are precisely what make us so vulnerable to climate change.

Like every country, Colombia does not exist in isolation. We are always vulnerable to the impact of actions beyond our borders. COVID-19 has reaffirmed this. That is why we launched the Sustainable Development Goals in the Rio+20 Summit in 2012 and strongly supported the Paris Agreement. It is also why I have been so disheartened in recent years by seeing some nations retreat from global collaboration.

President Santos traveled to San Miguel, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, to return the baton given to him eight years ago as a symbol of approval.
President Santos traveled to San Miguel, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, to return the baton given to him eight years ago as a symbol of approval.
Image: César Carrión – SIG (Presidency of Colombia)

It has somehow become normal to question science and the lessons we should by now have learned from indigenous peoples. For example, the dangers of disease that come with taking wild animals out of their habitats and bringing them into densely populated cities have been ignored. Meanwhile, the prioritization of climate change and environmental protections is sometimes lacking among world leaders.

Now we face a global public health disaster that has already cost us more than 264,000 lives and threatens to ruin economies and test nations and international institutions to their breaking points. History has taught us that peace doesn’t emerge naturally. We must ensure that after humanity has won the war against this virus, we don’t allow the rise of nationalism and authoritarianism, but rather, build international bridges and heal wounds

Indigenous peoples have been trying to show us the way. They understand the bond between man and nature better than any politician or scientist could ever hope to. By heeding their wisdom, we can save ourselves and the planet.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

China Unlimited: an exclusive interview with the former Ambassador of Hungary to China

Healthcare workers’ safety: a forgotten necessity

Understanding the ‘second brain’ in your gut

5 things to know about the exploding world of pro gaming

First EU-wide protection for whistle-blowers agreed

The EU has to prove it can remain one piece

These 8 countries have perfect scores for women’s rights at work

International Women’s Day: Where does she belong?

Africa-Europe Alliance: European Commission committed to a sustainable African agri-food sector

4 things ISPs can do to reduce the impact of cybercrime

Trump ‘used’ G20 to side with Putin and split climate and trade packs

State aid: Commission opens in-depth investigation into arbitration award in favour of Antin to be paid by Spain

Vile act of torture prohibited ‘under all circumstances’, UN chief affirms on International Day to support victims

3 ways to ensure the internet’s future is creative, collaborative and fair

This lethal fungus is threatening to wipe out the world’s bananas

EU food watchdog: more transparency, better risk prevention

New rules on drivers’ working conditions and fair competition in road transport

Help African farmers cope with climate change threats, UN food agency urges

Why cybersecurity matters more than ever during the coronavirus pandemic

Europe eyes to replace US as China’s prime foreign partner

3 ways to make technologies more inclusive for people with disabilities

Confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine grows in UK and US, but global concerns about side effects are on the rise

Preventing and resolving conflicts must form ‘backbone’ of collective efforts – UN chief

UPDATED: Thousands flee fighting around Libyan capital as Guterres condemns escalation, urges ‘immediate halt’ to all military operations

How emerging markets will shape Africa in 2020

5 factors driving the Chinese lawtech boom

This tool shows you which cities will flood as ice sheets melt

High-tech or ‘high-touch’: UK survey gives clues to the jobs of the future

Security Council urges ‘maximum restraint’ around Gulf region as Iran and United States trade diplomatic blows in New York

EU Parliament says ‘no’ to austerity budget

ISIS fighters fleeing Mosul for Syria can topple Assad. Why did the US now decide to uproot them from Iraq?

China and China-EU Relations in the New Era

5 things you might not know about forests – but should

More hiring freedom can reduce teacher shortages in disadvantaged areas

When it comes to envirotech adoption, NGOs can lead us out of the woods

‘Extinction crisis’ pushes countries to agree stronger protection for global wildlife

Why we need both science and humanities for a Fourth Industrial Revolution education

The digital transformation is a skills and education opportunity for all. Companies must use it

European Commission increases support for the EU’s beekeeping sector

Building a Climate-Resilient Future – A new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change

The UK option: An overarching alternative for the whole Brexit options

‘The time for action is now’ senior UN peacekeeping official says, urging support for regional force combating Sahel terrorism

Mediterranean migrant drownings should spur greater action by European countries, urge UN agencies

Carbon levy on EU imports needed to raise global climate ambition

Iran: women hunger strikers entitled to medical care, UN rights experts urge

It is now the era to evolve mutually as the bacteria do

COVID-19: Revised rules to encourage banks to lend to companies and households

Fashion’s hot new trend: clothes you don’t need to wash (very often)

Stronger partnerships with post-conflict countries needed to ensure ‘path towards durable peace’: UN chief

Republic of Korea President proposes DMZ as future ‘peace and cooperation district’ on Peninsula

Women’s work faces the greatest risk of automation, says new research

May led Britain to chaos, now looks for way out with unpredictable DUP

We must rethink and repurpose cybersecurity for the COVID-19 era

EU-Turkey relations: EU considers imposing sanctions while Turkey keeps violating Cyprus’ sovereignty

National parks give a $6 trillion boost to mental health worldwide

Here’s how data can shine a light on financial crime

Will Eurozone be able to repay its debts? Is a bubble forming there?

Eight years in, Syria still embroiled in conflict ‘that no longer sparks outrage’, Security Council hears

Difficulties of vaccination against COVID-19

Services are the hidden side of the US-China trade war

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s