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FEATURE: Overcoming Institutional Instability in Cartagena de Indias

Also posted in Spanish

Elias Terán, the mayor of Cartagena, passed away last April. Over the past year, the mayor’s illness and his absence from City Hall caused much uncertainty about the leadership of the city and led to institutional instability. For example, a series of acting mayors led the city during this period testing the leadership and continuity in governance.

At first glance, this chronic institutional instability of the past years, which includes dismissal or inspection of the leaders, could prove to be a major setback and obstacle to the raising of climate change issues in the public and political agenda in Cartagena. Certainly, the rotation of mayors has affected the decision-making and the continuity of the design and implementation of public policies and institutional memories.

However, there are elements in Cartagena that indicate that climate change, its challenges, and its opportunities are not at the mercy of the power of a new mayor. The process has permeated various institutions close to the Mayor’s office, which together have created an Interinstitutional Commission on Climate Change, where both public and private sectors have responsibilities. Also, the different people that have passed through the mayor’s hall in the past year have continued to understand that climate compatible development in Cartagena is a priority, and they have introduced the city’s development plan. There now exists an office for climate change in the Secretary of Planning within the structure of the municipal government, which benefits from the support of specialists from the Institute of Marine and Coastal Investigations (INVEMAR). There is also support at the national level from within the office of Climate Change in the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development, and at the international level, with support from the Climate Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

On the other hand, several of the priority issues for the city involve climate variability and climate change. The same media reports on these challenges. The newspaper El Tiempo, for example, reports that a key issue for the city is the “implementation of the storm water system, to curb floods the plague the most vulnerable neighborhoods of the city whenever the hard rains come. Not to mention the streets of the historic center, which have the same problem at high tide”(1). Rainfalls intensity, sea level rise and drainage problems are clear signs of recurrent climatic stress on the city, which in turn indicates a need to understand and adapt to the challenges.

In addition, the city has a vulnerability assessment to climate change made by INVEMAR and supported by CDKN, which has been extensively socialized. Similarly, it released a document titled Guidelines for Adaptation, created in a participatory process. During its construction it has been a precedent for the adoption of these measures and actions for climate change development in the city and region. Incorporating these guidelines in the Municipal Development Plan and in the debate for Land Use Plan indicates the importance of the topic for the development and competitiveness of the city.

It should be noted that for coastal cities such as Cartagena, the issue of climate is no longer a novelty, but an impetus for competitiveness. As New York and other coastal cities worldwide have experienced, climate compatible development is a matter of planning, adaptation and survival. Working past the instability of government, the city of Cartagena has managed to introduce the subject in several instances. This is reflected by the creation of the Inter-institutional technical Commission for Climate Change in Cartagena, which is integrated by several institutions and private, public, and academic organizations. Therefore, a key group of actors is already empowered and engaged for the success of the Adaptation plan developed for the city, ensuring that the issue remains on the agenda for Cartagena.

Finally, although there is awareness about the challenges concerning climate and development, it is a priority that the new mayor understands that climate change is not a short-term issue of the current government, so that it does not fall victim to local political contingencies. It is for that reason that the adaptation plan for climate change in Cartagena, supported by CDKN, is focused on creating conditions for the politicians as well as the main sectors of Cartagena see adaptation as an opportunity for development.

In conclusion, the case of Cartagena is an inspirational and an illustration of how climate change adaptation can work. Despite the institutional instability of the past months, the process of constructing a plan for adaptation has created optimism for the subject and the incorporation and maintenance of the issue in district politics. Its participatory spirit, the commitment made by several senior members of key organizations in Cartagena, the support from national institutions and the urgency of mitigating climate change effects in the city are undoubtedly advantages on the eve of the mayoral election. Cartagena continues with a firm commitment to create a novel and practical way to offer long-term solutions that serve the interests and necessities of social and sectorial development in the city, sustaining its present and future competitiveness.


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