Climate Deal 2015

Colombia’s Road to Paris: Beyond emission reductions

On August 5 th, the Colombian Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized an event supported by Fundación Natura and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Colombia to present progress on the Colombian Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) and as an opportunity for civil society to give feedback on the content. This is a summary of the country’s plans and why they matter.

The world is waiting for Colombia to present an ambitious climate goal in the context of a new global climate agreement to be signed in Paris later this year. Colombia is likely to present their full plan publicly in the coming weeks, and soon the scrutiny will begin. Thus far, 52 countries (including the European Union) have officially submitted their national contributions – or “INDCs”, as they are known in UN jargon. Fifteen INDCs have so far been submitted from developing countries, but only one to date from Latin America.

Elements of a Colombian climate goal

Colombia’s INDC will contain three central elements: mitigation, adaptation, and means of implementation (i.e., technology transfer, climate finance, and capacity building).

The mitigation component is already known, with President Juan Manuel Santos in July announcing emission reductions of 20% by 2030 based on a business-as-usual (BAU) trajectory. This option was the winner over two other reduction choices debated: 13% and 25%. The accepted 20% target will be achieved through action plans that already exist for 8 key sectors – agriculture, energy, housing, hydrocarbons, industry, mining, transport, and waste. The government is also developing further plans that could be achieved conditional on receiving financial support from developed countries.

Given that the goal is an economy-wide target, the quantitative breakdown of emission reductions for particular economic sectors has yet to be defined. Colombia’s National Development Plan mandates that all ministries formulate and implement targets for the economic sector(s) under their jurisdiction. That said, the Colombian government, the Universidad de Los Andes, and others have already identified and quantified key activities that economic sectors can leverage to achieve their goal. For instance, the country is hoping to prevent an increase in current deforestation rates, as well as to maximize energy efficiency across industry and energy sectors.

Given that the country’s current trajectory predicts an increase in national greenhouse gas emissions, the Colombian government has argued that its 20% target is ambitious. Colombia is a developing country with one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America, but is also burdened with significant social challenges like armed conflict, poverty, and high economic inequality. Thus the government argues that reducing emissions by 20% already presents a considerable challenge. The government further argues that the target is equitable on an international level, because as a middle-income country it is accepting its duty to reduce emissions according to its past and current responsibilities and its capability to do so.

It is worth noting that Colombia and other developing countries in Latin America have been fierce advocates of including an INDC adaptation component , arguing that it should hold equal weight with mitigation. So far, 6 developing countries have included adaptation in their contributions, and Colombia’s submission is expected to build on current national adaptation plan efforts (there are 11 territorial plans, a number that is expected to increase by 2030). The Third Official Communication on Climate Change to the UN, which is under development, will also inform Colombian adaptation plans.

Perhaps the most innovative element of Colombia’s plan is the forthcoming National Indicator System with a focus on adaptation. Such policy would have been unthinkable a decade ago, but will now monitor and evaluate the implementation of climate adaptation measures. A second innovation is that ministries overseeing agriculture, energy, transport, and other areas are designing adaptation action plans with private sector support. This model could serve as a reference for other countries also trying to mainstream adaptation in their climate plans.

Additionally, the Colombian government will work on informing the public about climate change through varying methods, depending on the needs and vulnerabilities of local communities. The conservation of strategic ecosystems will be prioritized with an aim to formulate territorial planning around water vulnerability due to climate impacts.

On the implementation side, Colombia is also planning to increase its cooperation on mitigation and adaptation with other developing countries. For example, a workshop was held earlier this year with other Latin American countries to discuss and brainstorm INDC adaptation components. Furthermore, Colombia will consolidate a work strategy with universities and research centers in the Climate Technology Centre and Network, and will continue its work with the private sector on climate finance.

Does the INDC matter?

The Colombian contribution marks an important milestone in the country’s development of climate change policies. For the first time it is required to internationally present a mitigation target that could potentially be legally binding – unprecedented for a developing country like Colombia. The INDC process has been an opportunity to create space for discussion between various ministries, the private sector, academia, and national experts. It has raised questions about Colombian development in the coming decades, stimulated innovation, and allows Colombians to visualize the path towards a low carbon economy.

The INDC has reinforced the idea that climate change is not simply an environmental problem, but a political, economic, and social issue that all governmental ministries and agencies need to prepare for. In an INDC-related survey, 96% of respondents thought that Colombia should include an adaptation component. This reflects the Colombian imperative to plan ahead and protect its people. Colombians – especially communities already beginning to suffer from climate change impacts – know that adaptation is crucial to development.

Colombia’s INDC has and will continue to be an opportunity for citizens to envision better and cleaner development, to formulate and implement plans that will increase resiliency to climate change impacts, and to believe that they deserve something better than business-as-usual. Regardless of the outcome of the Paris climate agreement, Colombia has already begun to take significant steps towards a more resilient and sustainable economy.


Camila Bustos is lead researcher at Nivela. You can follow her at @MaCamilaBustos.

For more information on Colombia’s INDC, please visit the Colombian Ministry of Environment’s page here. The government will be accepting feedback until August 20th.

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