Green growth and climate compatible development - how do they translate at local level?


Green growth and climate compatible development - how do they translate at local level?

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Date: 10th August 2015
Type: Feature
Tags: economic development, forests

Claudia Martinez, CDKN’s senior strategic advisor for Colombia, outlines some of the hottest debates around environment, human development and sustainability issues in Easter Antioquia, one of Colombia’s most inequitable regions – and finds no easy answers.

Green growth and climate compatible development need to be understood from a local viewpoint – which is why CDKN Colombia recently organised a workshop to explore and aid understanding of these concepts in Eastern Antioquia. We brought together staff from the environmental corporation of Eastern Antioquia, the regional development corporation CORNARE, and the team from Fundacion Natura and WWF, partners in CDKN’s project to develop a plan for climate compatible development and green growth in the region.

Green growth is a concept that has been defined differently by the OECD, the World Bank, the UNEP and others. Even though the definitions are similar in nature, they still need to be defined in a real-life development context.

Colombia is eager to enter the OECD, and has been approaching and developing its understanding of ‘green growth’ from this institution’s perspective.  For the OECD, green growth means “fostering economic growth and development, while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which our well-being relies. To do this, it must catalyse investment and innovation which will underpin sustained growth and give rise to new economic opportunities”.

On the other hand, ‘climate compatible development’ is defined as “development that minimises the harm caused by climate impacts, while maximising the many human development opportunities presented by a low emissions, more resilient, future” (see CDKN, 2010).

These two definitions sound great on paper, but how can they be combined in a defined local context such as Colombia’s Eastern Antioquia region? That is still the challenge.

On one hand, fostering economic growth might be a contradiction when we want to lower emissions from development.  The Eastern Antioquia region is growing in terms of population and economic development because most of the economic activities formerly carried out in Medellin (Valle de Aburrá Area) and other regions have decided to move to this area.  Therefore, some of the biggest industries of Colombia like the Argos cement factory, the Avianca Airline hub, and others are currently located in the area.  The price of land is increasing and land use is changing in 4 of the 26 municipalities at an incredible pace.  For this area, emissions will increase from agriculture, forest and other land uses and in transport, as well as from industries and the consumption of energy. Of course, we can think of being more efficient and fostering growth with low emissions…However, from a bird’s eye view, the trend in this part of the region might look to be heading in quite a different direction. And greening an economy that grows in a traditional capitalist way can be a challenge.

On the other hand, fostering economic growth in poor municipalities with low populations that have very few opportunities to generate income  might sound easier in terms of low emissions but challenging in terms of green growth. In Eastern Antioquia, 40% of the population is still under the  poverty line, and there is a big need to create development opportunities - opportunities that are hopefully green in nature. Half of the territory is still well preserved from an environmental point of view, producing water and  environmental services including 27% of Colombia’s energy, which comes from its hydropower dams.

For these poor municipalities, the development alternatives range from cutting the forest, illegal mining and producing non-efficient agricultural schemes to greener options like ecotourism  or planting organic crops, activities which require more skills and markets.  Understanding this situation, Cornare has developed a very innovative ‘bank of ecosystem services’ called Banco2, that is paying local people who save the forest through the services of Bancolombia. Many Colombian institutions and individuals are offsetting their emissions by buying the carbon credits generated by this scheme – and this is, in turn, generating solidarity and options for a growing number of local people.

Despite this progress, the overall challenge is much bigger.  Only the rich municipalities are producing income from the tax and royalties of development, increasing emissions and becoming less green, while municipalities that remain green and poor will never see the income needed to have better schools, roads, towns and promote human sustainable development, and of course will have to adapt to the climate of the future.

The participants of the workshop decided to bridge these two realities and concepts and  continue understanding how to develop a vulnerability analysis with indicators on climate change and green growth, and explore the optios of development with a range of actors  and views.

CDKN and its partners are looking at what Colombia’s 2014-2018 development plan promotes in terms of green growth and climate compatible development which can be translated into action at subnational level. The ongoing  test will be to promote practical options in this interesting but inequitable region of Colombia.


We welcome your comments on Colombia’s green growth and climate compatible development quandaries. Please leave your comments in the box below.

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