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Environmental Crime Legal Framework in Colombia

    Colombia's Constitution highlights the intersections between public health and ecological integrity; for example, Article 49 reads: “Public health and environmental protection are public services for which the State is responsible. All individuals are guaranteed access to services that promote, protect, and rehabilitate public health”.

    Article 79 of Colombia's Constitution states “Every individual has the right to enjoy a healthy environment. The law will guarantee the community’s participation in the decisions that may affect it.” Furthermore, “It is the duty of the State to protect the diversity and integrity of the environment, to conserve the areas of special ecological importance, and to foster education for the achievement of these ends”.

    The constitution also contains provisions for environmental education; Article 67 states “Education will train the Colombian when it comes to respect for human rights, peace, and democracy, and in the practice of work and recreation for cultural, scientific, and technological improvement and for the protection of the environment”.

    Characterised as an 'ecological constitution', Colombia’s constitution recognises Colombian citizens' collective right to a healthy environment.

    The main Colombian environmental regulations are:
  • The Natural Renewable Resources Code – Decree in force of Law 2811 of 1974
  • Law 99 of 1993, which defines the country's institutional framework, the National Environmental System
  • And The Single Regulatory Decree for the Environment and Sustainable Development sector, Decree 1076 of 2015.

Featured Legislation

1973:  Law 23 was passed as a result of the Human Environment Conference at the United Nations and the Stockholm Declaration of 1972. This law dictates rules regarding civil and administrative liability for environmental damages and rules on pollution.

1973: The Renewable Resources Code was created, designating Colombia’s constitution a 'green' constitution due to its special protections for the environment.

1993: Law 99 established the environmental institutional framework in Colombia, which was also called the National Environmental System. Innovative regulatory aspects of the law include the obligatory nature of environmental licenses.

1994: Law 170 was brought into force, regulating the improper handling of chemical substances.

2007: Resolution 1362 was enacted, requiring all generators of residues, waste and hazardous waste to register in the Environmental Authority Generators Registry.

2009: The Environmental Administrative Sanctioning Act (Law 1333) was established, granting powers to authorities to initiate administrative investigations and to impose preventive measures and sanctions.

2013: Resolution No. 1,484 was approved. This Resolution forms the Environmental Information System for Colombia (SIAC), which is made up of two large subsystems: the Environmental Information System (SIA), for monitoring the quality and status of natural resources and the environment, and the Information System for Environmental Planning and Management (SIPGA), for the monitoring and evaluation of the planning instruments of the Regional Autonomous Corporations.

2015: Resolution No. 3,714 was tabled. This Resolution establishes the diseases, infections and infestations of mandatory declaration before the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA). The established provisions will be applicable to all natural or legal persons who possess animals under any title and/or market them, to veterinarians and to laboratories that have knowledge of a positive diagnosis of any of the diseases, infections and infestations of the species mentioned in this Resolution.

2015: Decree 1076 was passed, regulating projects or operations that imply the use of or the impact of water. Different types of permits can be issued: water concessions and permits to discharge wastewater.

2016: The Illegal Marine Fishing in Colombia Document was established. This document was carried out within the Framework Cooperation Agreement No. 019 of 2009, signed between the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation (PGN) and the MarViva Foundation, through which technical, methodological, investigative and financial efforts were combined, deepening the fishing Illegal marine, unreported and unregulated in Colombia, as a relevant issue in the country's coastal marine territory. The objective is to analyze in depth the problem of marine IUU fishing in Colombia, from different visions, identifying possible causes and consequences, as well as making visible the negative impacts that it generates in the environmental, social and economic dimensions, and the existing gaps at the regulatory level, technical, institutional and social that exist to advance in its prevention and eradication.

2016: Decree 298 (the National Climate Change System, SISCLIMA) was created, facilitating inter-institutional coordination, and decision-making on mitigation and adaptation.

2017: Resolution 2254 was adopted by The Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development, in response to the proposed guidelines for air quality made by the WHO.

2018: ​​Law 1931 enacted national guidelines for climate management and established the Colombian Emission Trading Scheme (ETS).

Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

  • In May 2021: InSight Crime presented findings from a year-long investigation with the World Wildlife Fund on Colombia’s four main criminal activities fueling environmental destruction in Colombia: illegal mining, land grabbing, timber trafficking, and wildlife smuggling. More than 100 stakeholders were present, including officials from the Colombian government, police, military and prosecutor’s office, functionaries from various embassies, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the United States Agency for International Development.  With respect to timber trafficking, criminal networks oversee the illegal extraction, transportation, and trafficking of protected species of wood to supply international markets. Illegal logging contributes to 10 percent of deforestation in the country, according to Colombia’s Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (Instituto de Hidrología, Meteorología y Estudios Ambientales – IDEAM). Corrupt officials falsify documents to ensure the exportation of timber but they also launder illegally sourced wood for legal resale.
  • Transparency for Colombia (Transparencia por Colombia), a branch of Transparency International, and the Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development (Fundación para la Conservación y el Desarrollo Sostenible – FCDS) have partnered with the State to investigate illicit mining operations and massive deforestation as a result of mercury and other chemicals being used to extract gold ore. These chemicals pollute rivers and intoxicate wildlife, leading to biodiversity decline. According to the investigation, illegal mining in Colombia now rivals the drug trade for profits, with the illegal gold trade valued at  an estimated 7 billion pesos ($2.4 billion) a year.

References and Further Reading


Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development: