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FEATURE: Colombia’s national climate pledge – towards the Paris Summit

Also posted in Spanish

Claudia Martinez is CDKN’s Senior Strategic Advisor for Colombia and also advises the national government on green growth. Here, she reports on the scope and significance of Colombia’s national climate pledge in the run-up to the critical United Nations Summit in Paris in December.

Colombia’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) – the national pledge made towards the UN climate talks in Paris this December – aims to reduce emissions by 20 percent below projected business as usual (BAU) emissions by 2030. This reduction could increase to 30% with international support. The country also provides clear adaptation goals, reaffirming the need to work hard on understanding vulnerability and strengthening sectors and territories [Ed: ‘subnational parts of the country’] in their adaptation pathways.

Colombia can be said to be the first country in South America to release a consistent INDC that adopts a broad-reaching emissions reduction target for the first time.

First, Colombia has had an Office of Climate Change since 2000, earlier than many countries in the world. Colombia has a National Institute of Environmental Information and Meteorology, IDEAM, which has followed the process of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in terms of producing accurate information on climate change. IDEAM developed new climate change scenarios (2015) as well as the new emissions estimates to produce the BAU model. Understanding emissions and making robust greenhouse gas abatement curves to support decision-making processes has been very important.

Second, based on accurate data, the Colombian INDC process involved a cross-sectoral participatory process where all the main economic sectors were convened to understand the sources of greenhouse gas emissions and to work together on new options to reduce them. This joint work ended in developing Sectoral Action Plans for Mitigation with concrete options. The process of committing to an INDC followed on the built upon this previous work, and presented three different scenarios for decision-makers. The final decision involved high level discussions, leading finally to the chosen target, which is logical for the country and the world.

The strong technical capacity, the skill to translate science and numbers into comprehensible commitments and the political will to continue leading the importance of the climate change negotiations were certainly an asset in building the INDC.

Colombia is a country of contrasts. On the one hand, with a population of over 48 million inhabitants, the country contributes to 0,46% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. Fifty eight percent of the national emissions are related to agriculture, forestry and land use change, including extensive cattle ranging, and deforestation. However, from 2010 to 2012, this number went down to 43% as deforestation decreased. The energy sector accounted for 32% of emissions in 2010 and grew to 44% in 2012 (IDEAM 2015). Luckily, around 70% of the energy matrix of Colombia is hydropower-based, and the consumption per capita is much less than the international average. Other emissions involve wastes (8%) and industrial processes (5%) in 2012.

The Colombia BAU scenario projected 335 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in 2030, but with the new target, emissions will decrease to 268 tons of CO2e. The target is totally transparent as the BAU scenario is in absolute terms.

The target implies a shared responsibility among a total of six economic sectors. However, the country understands that there should be a cost-effective analysis to reach the INDC goal, and the challenge is to be imaginative to fulfil it. Several options will start to be laid out, including internal market mechanisms, financial and economic incentives and disincentives, creating a strong strategy for mobilising climate finance (currently being supported by CDKN), command and control mechanisms and accentuating the roles of science and technology.

On the other hand, Colombia places a strong emphasis on adaptation as the country is very vulnerable to climate change. With an incredibly diverse geography and biodiversity, Colombia has already suffered several extreme climate-related events including floods and droughts with estimates of more than 2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) lost in 2010. Colombia is also passing through a peace process, challenging the country to rethink the livelihoods of rural inhabitants, which includes the most vulnerable population. Therefore, linking climate change to the post-conflict agreements and options is crucial, and will need to assure equitable land distribution and ownership as well as developing climate-smart productive opportunities.

The INDC is totally aligned with the 2014-2018 National Development Plan, which lays a strong emphasis on working at the subnational level to ensure climate compatible development. In this context, Colombia will continue to develop integral subnational climate change plans including strategic actions on land use planning, management of water resources, climate-smart agricultural options and reduced deforestation. There are some cross-cutting goals including education and science and technology to improve innovation and competitiveness. Examples such as the CDKN-funded Cartagena Plan 4C or the Huila 2050 climate change plan have several lessons learned and will guide the way for other jurisdictions to follow.

At the sectoral level, the trend will have to be towards promoting climate plans and innovations that could prove to be cost-effective and even profitable in the medium term. At this stage, the Ministry of Agriculture has moved forward with some strategic sectors as well as the Transport Ministry with the CDKN-funded project Plan VIAS-CC that focuses on the primary road system of Colombia.

Overall, a robust and flexible climate financial strategy will need to reflect internal opportunities to understand that the Paris target will not increase the country’s deficit, but, to the contrary, will imply redefining the economy to internalise action on climate change, fostering innovation, competitiveness and green growth.

Colombia is facing the reduction of oil and mineral prices, on whose export it has previously relied. Even though the country is considered a medium income country, the levels of poverty and inequity are high. Considering both the capabilities and the development challenges, Colombia could become a laboratory of change, while fulfilling its INDC ambitions – hopefully with a clear line of sight towards its vision of successful climate compatible development.


Image: Cartagena, courtesy Daniel Piraino,


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