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FEATURE: Building resilience to climate change into Colombia’s transport networks

Also posted in Spanish

Claudia Martínez, Steven Price and Mathieu Lacoste (CDKN Colombia) report on a project that aims to improve Colombia’s transport infrastructure while making it less vulnerable to climate change.

Colombia has significant deficiencies in all categories of transport infrastructure[1]. The country is in 126th place out of 144 nations in terms of the quality of its highways, ranking alongside Lesotho (110) and far behind Kenya (72), Nicaragua (75) and the Dominican Republic (62). Colombia’s railways are ranked 109th, also considerably behind its regional peers. The situation is no different for ports (125th place) or air transport (106th place)[2].

At the same time, Colombia is considered one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change. Its infrastructure displays little resilience to the extreme climate phenomena that are beginning to seriously affect the country. In 2010 and 2011, the “La Niña” phenomenon scourged the country, resulting in losses of approximately 1.8 billion dollars (3.2 trillion pesos) or around 2% of the country’s GDP. Furthermore, 38% of the damage caused by this phenomenon was inflicted on infrastructure. Colombia’s Ministry of Transport estimates that over 3.1 billion dollars (6 trillion pesos) will be required to rehabilitate the nation’s roads, railways, ports and airports.

The deficiencies in the transport network, the lack of infrastructure resilience, and the expected impacts of climate change together threaten the nation’s economic competitiveness and prospects for economic growth. Moreover, Colombia has recently signed or is negotiating several new free trade agreements, which will require a more robust and resilient transport network. A more efficient and climate-adapted system of primary roadways will be vital. The President of Colombia has also given high priority to building and maintaining modern highways as a mainstay for the nation’s competitiveness and economic development. In accordance with this strategic focus, the country is in the process of tendering bids and proposals for numerous roadway infrastructure mega-projects.

To contribute to Colombia’s infrastructure plans and take advantage of the favourable timing, CDKN – along with the Ministry of Transport of Colombia, the National Infrastructure Agency (ANI) and the National Roadway Institute (INVIAS) – is undertaking a pioneering project to create solutions for increasing resilience and reducing vulnerability in the nation’s roadway infrastructure.  This project is aligned with and complements the strategy undertaken by national authorities, particularly ANI, to understand present vulnerability of infrastructure and accelerate construction of a new generation of highways which meet the urgent need for a functional, high-quality roadway system.

Implemented by ICF International[3], this project will create a Practical Technical Guide for integrating climate change considerations into tender and design processes for highway infrastructure projects, together with a Climate Change Adaptation Plan for the sector. The Government’s support for this project reflects its drive to envision Colombia’s highways over the next 20 – 50 years, increase future infrastructure resilience and maximize the yield of public investment in concessions.

A majority of the upcoming projects for building, rehabilitating, and improving the nation’s highways and infrastructure will be undertaken through public-private partnerships pursuant to Law 1508 of 2012[4].  This constitutes an unprecedented opportunity to introduce climate change adaptation and resilience into the procurement system and parameters used by the sector.  Accordingly, CDKN’s project will help to mainstream adaptation as a strategic component in the procurement, design and construction of roadway infrastructure, thus boosting the country’s long-term competitiveness and reducing the vulnerability of diverse social and economic sectors that depend on a reliable roadway network.


[1]World Economic Forum (2011). Annual Report on Global Competitiveness 2010-2011.

[2]Infrastructure Commission (2012). Infrastructure Commission Report for 2012.

[3] ICF is a prestigious international consulting firm with decades of experience in climate change adaptation and infrastructure. It was chosen to lead the project funded by CDKN from a pool of 19 high-level proposals.

[4] Law 1508 of 2012 creates an innovative framework for public-private partnerships in Colombia. This norm enables the private sector to formally propose innovative ideas of public interest to the Government. It guarantees public tender processes and establishes a concessionary limit of 30 years. The State is not allowed to provide more than 20% of the total investment for these projects.

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