Canadian Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault visits Colombia – were extractivism and human rights on the agenda?

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo by the Embassy of Canada in Colombia.

Canada’s environment minister Steven Guilbeault has just visited Colombia – where 322 environmental defenders have been killed over the past decade.

What was discussed?

On October 9, Environment Canada provided some context when it tweeted: “Tomorrow Minister Guilbeault begins his visit to Colombia, Chile and Argentina to advance cooperation on climate and nature priorities, including working with partners toward a Global Biodiversity Framework at #COP15.”

COP15 refers to the United Nations biodiversity conference that will take place at the Palais des Congrès in Montreal this coming December 7-19.

And on the day of the meeting, the Canadian Embassy in Colombia tweeted: “Welcome to Colombia Steven Guilbeault, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change of Canada @environmentca! He had productive discussions with his counterpart from @MinAmbienteCo [the Ministry of the Environment] @susanamuhamad on our shared priorities to protect the environment & biodiversity & fight climate change.”

The Colombian Ministry of the Environment also tweeted:

“The Minister @susanamuhamad and the Minister of @environmentca @s_guilbeault met to review the progress of the Post 2020 Acceleration Mechanism that seeks to strengthen cooperation in biodiversity conservation and adaptation to climate change.”

The Ministry added:

“In order to raise the ambition in #COP27 Climate Change and #COP15 Biodiversity, we will work on an exchange of experiences to generate greater inclusion of communities as strategic actors in the management processes of #ColombiaWorldPowerofLife.”

Notably, the Colombian Minister of Mines and Energy, Irene Vélez-Torres, also met with Guilbeault and tweeted:

“We met with the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change of Canada, @s_guilbeault, with whom we discussed cooperation opportunities to learn about good practices of popular economies and work with indigenous communities in matters of #EnergyTransition.”

Ten areas of concern

1- Above Ground has documented: “Between 2018 and 2020, Canada provided more public finance for fossil fuels than any other country in the G20. Nearly all of this financing was delivered through Export Development Canada (EDC), which provided on average $13.6 billion a year in support to Canadian and foreign oil and gas companies. This was 22 times greater than EDC’s support for renewable energy.”

Can the Minister comment on how much EDC financing during this period went to Canadian fossil fuel corporations operating in Colombia? Is there a commitment to phase out or end this financing? Has an analysis been done on the relationship between this financing and the risks faced by environmental defenders?

2- Of the 69 oil and gas exploration blocks awarded in Colombia between 2019 and 2021 by the previous government, 39 went to Canadian companies. Natural Resources Canada has also reported that at $8 billion in 2018, Colombia was second largest location for Canadian Energy Assets Abroad (CEAA).

Can the Minister comment on the carbon/environmental footprint and human rights implications of these new exploration contracts?

3- In September, Mongabay Latam reported that there have been 2,133 oil incidents and spills in Colombia from 2015 to June 2022. At least 92 of those incidents have been linked to Canadian companies namely Frontera Energy/Pacific Rubiales (56), Gran Tierra (26) and Parex Resources (10).

Can the Minister comment on these incidents and efforts to prevent future incidents in the context of the human right to water and a clean environment?

4- According to Canada Energy Regulator (CER), Canada imported 10,872 barrels of oil per day from Colombia in 2021. CER also notes that all of that was exported to the province of New Brunswick. In March, the National Post reported that an oil tanker carrying bunker oil from Colombia to the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick rerouted because the Russian shipping company carrying the oil had been blacklisted by the United States.

Can the Minister comment on the environmental, climate and human rights context of Canadian oil imports from Colombia?

5- In July, Mongabay reported: “Many Indigenous leaders and human rights advocates say [the 30×30 initiative in the Global Biodiversity Framework to be discussed at the COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal] may lead to the mass eviction of Indigenous and local communities for the creation of more protected areas.”

Can the Minister comment on this concern about militarized dispossession of Indigenous peoples in the name of conservation?

6- Mines and energy minister Vélez-Torres has stated “there will be no fracking” in Colombia. But El Tiempo has reported Calgary-based Parex Resources has a signed exploration agreement for Block VMM-9 in the Magdalena Medio region (dated September 18, 2014). And last month, the CEO of Calgary-based Frontera Energy told Semana: “I think the Duque Government’s approach with scientific [fracking] pilots to obtain supported information is the right one. I don’t think it’s convenient to deny us that opportunity.”

Can the Minister comment on Canada’s position on fracking in relation to Canadian companies wanting to frack in Colombia? Can the Minister also comment on the possibility the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism in the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement could be used by Parex Resources to sue Colombia over lost future profits?

7- On the day of the Minister’s visit to Colombia, El Pais reported: “The Colombian Congress has approved on Monday the bill that allows the country to ratify the Escazú Agreement, a treaty signed between several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that seeks to protect the environment and human rights [and protect environmental defenders].”

Global Affairs Canada has previously refused to support adoption of the Escazu Agreement in Colombia (while notably Germany, Sweden and Norway publicly expressed their support for the agreement). Does the Minister now welcome the ratification of the agreement? Will the Embassy support environmental defenders to fulfil the promise of the agreement? Will the Voices at Risk guidelines be updated to reflect the responsibilities of Canadian missions in relation to the Escazu Agreement?

8- Canadian oil companies have been implicated in specific situations involving criminalization and human rights violations. This includes Frontera Energy and the community of San Luis de Palenque in Colombia. UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst expressed his concern about “the apparent connection between Frontera Energy, the army’s 16th brigade and the Attorney General’s Support Office in this criminalization.”

Can the Minister comment on the situation in San Luis de Palenque, the use of protection agreements by Canadian companies, and the overall context of threats and attacks faced by environmental defenders and social leaders in Colombia?

9- In May, Al Jazeera reported: “Local environmental defenders [in the Magdalena Medio region of Colombia] and a representative of the JEP [Special Jurisdiction for Peace] told Al Jazeera that they suspected a connection between the paramilitary groups intimidating them and the state-owned Ecopetrol, which is behind the fracking project. The company has been accused of having ties with the Gulf Clan [AGC] specifically.” Oil Change International has documented that both Export Development Canada and Toronto-based Scotiabank have provided significant amounts of financing to Ecopetrol.

The Breach has also just reported on Toronto-based mining company GCM (aka Gran Colombia Gold) operating in Segovia a “town as belonging to the most powerful criminal armed group in Colombia, the Gaitanista Self Defense Forces of Colombia.”

Is the Minister concerned by allegations of a relationship between Canadian interests and paramilitary violence against land and environmental defenders?

10- On March 21, 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed this resolution that states: “Human rights defenders, including environmental human rights defenders, must be ensured a safe and enabling environment to undertake their work free from hindrance and insecurity, in recognition of their important role in supporting States to fulfil their obligations under the Paris Agreement.”

Does the Minister support a clear recognition of the role of environmental defenders (and the need for protection mechanisms for them) in the final declaration that will emerge from the COP27 climate summit this November?

We continue to follow the relationship between Canadian foreign policy, extractivism and the risks faced by frontline environmental defenders in Colombia.


Join us today (Tuesday October 11 at 2 pm ET) to hear from social leaders and environmental defenders speak about the criminalization experienced by the community of San Luis de Palenque in Colombia by the Canadian oil company Frontera Energy. To register for this webinar, click here.

PBI met with the community on July 1.

Peace Brigades International has had an on-the-ground presence in Colombia accompanying frontline human rights defenders since 1994.

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