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FEATURE: David v Goliath? – How Colombia tackles climate change

by Martin Ross

Colombia is the world’s third most vulnerable country to climate change, according to Frank Pearl, Colombia’s former Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development. In fact, Colombians have recently seen an increase in floods during the “Ola Invernal” or “seasonal rains”, while others faced continuous threats of drought. Both the public and private sector in Colombia are aware of this hazard, with 95% of Bogotá’s inhabitants considering that climate change affects their quality of life. The country has reasons to worry as it relies on its agricultural sector which has already seen a decline in the production and export of its high quality coffee, mainly due to global warming.

Considering its high vulnerability to global warming and climate variability, climate change and sustainable development are clearly top priorities in Colombia’s political agenda. Indeed, Colombia is arguably a regional leader in the development of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.

At Rio+20, the recent United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Colombia positioned itself as a frontrunner by proposing (together with the government of Guatemala) the well-received Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim at expanding on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that will run out in 2015.

However, Colombia’s efforts date back as far as 1994 and 2011, when Colombia joined the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Since then, various initiatives such as the Colombian Low Carbon Development Strategy (CLCDS) have shown that Colombia is approaching the issue with skill and dedication.

One of the fundamental advances in Colombia’s mitigation and adaptation efforts is the identification of the social and economic dimensions of climate change. Last year, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos announced new “state of the art regulations” which would make protection of the environment “compatible with economic development”.

In order to enhance climate-compatible development, three main institutions now deal with the issue and have recently undergone a substantial overhaul: the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, the National Planning Department (DNP) and the Institute for Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM).

In 2011, Colombia’s government published a document called “Institutional Strategy to Articulate Climate Change Policies and Actions in Colombia”, which aimed at creating an entirely new institutional framework under which the DNP has climate change authority. This institution, receiving direction from the President, is in charge of formulating long-term public policies and possesses significant political power to coordinate all the ministries involved in climate change – these include the Ministries of Environment, Agriculture, Finance, Mines and Energy, Transport, Foreign Relations, and Social Protection.

The Climate Change Mitigation Group, in its new location under the DNP, is responsible for defining climate policies and coordinating and articulating the country’s climate actions. This new institutional structure aims to communicate the relevant initiatives on climate change and allocate resources for activities such as the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA).

Colombia’s ambitious plans owe their relative success to two main factors: firstly, even though the “Ola Invernal” contributed to stronger climate change awareness among policymakers, the government has also been able to raise consciousness at citizen level about the future social, environmental and economic challenges associated with climate change. Secondly, with the latest institutional reform the government attempts to keep the climate change authority separate from the environmental authority.

This clearly shows, as mentioned before, that the environmental, as well as the social and economic dimension associated with climate change, is taken into account. The independence of a climate change authority facilitates better coordination in the government among ministries. Sufficient political power is also critical to keep the issue of climate change high on the political agenda.

Despite the fact that Colombia still needs to confront highly complex issues such as poverty and growing inequality, it becomes apparent that the country shows good will and ambition to tackle a problem that not only spans across borders but affects humanity as a whole. Of course, there is still a lot to learn yet Colombia’s mitigation efforts clearly serve as a model for other developed and undeveloped countries to follow.

Article originally posted on: CIAT Blogs

Image credit:  Martin Ross 

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