Climate Deal 2015

On the Road to Paris: Colombia's Opportunity to Clean Up Development

The March 31st deadline for Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs) – where countries are asked to present their national climate mitigation plans in the lead up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) December 2015 conference in Paris – saw just five governments submit commitments: the European Union, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, and the United States. Mexico has been the first developing country to do so, and included plans for both mitigation and adaptation. Will other Latin American countries follow suit? Here we present an update on Colombia’s INDC process, highlighting some of the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

What the INDC could mean for Colombia

Like many other countries, Colombia’s INDC drafting process began last year and builds on much of the government’s internal planning on adaptation and mitigation with support from a variety of agencies and institutions. As Jose Manuel Sandoval, leader of the Colombian Low Carbon Development Strategy (CLCDS), alongside others in the government have echoed, the INDC process has allowed Colombia to test domestically what contribution it will make to Paris and what it means for the country. The lessons learned thus far have been valuable.

As of now, Colombia’s INDC is expected for submission to the UNFCCC in late July or early August 2015, and is likely to include elements on mitigation, adaptation, and means of implementation. As part of the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), Colombia has supported an ambitious INDC process that covers these three areas, all critical to ensure that the country sets a path for low carbon development which incorporates the imperative of climate resiliency with action on the ground. There is also the possibility that Colombia will increase its ambition should the government be granted further support from developed countries or others able to do so. This approach is consistent with Colombia’s negotiating position at the UNFCCC.

The decision to include certain financial elements under the means of implementation section is still under discussion. Meanwhile, work on the mitigation section has been based on emission scenarios for Colombia and the challenges that these will imply for the future. Efforts are being pulled together from different actors, including the University of Los Andes in Bogota and the multi-national Mitigation Actions Plans and Scenarios (MAPS) programme. Different domestic ministries have also been involved in the process, with a number of workshops last November and March. Earlier this year the government launched the Calculadora Colombiana de Carbono 2050, which presents a variety of mitigation scenarios based on ongoing and potential measures to reduce the carbon intensity of different economic sectors.

It is important to note that the INDC process comes at a time when important political-level changes are taking place in Colombia. President Juan Manuel Santos began his second term last year, and the INDC process will be another example of the kind of development his administration is envisioning for the country. Having an international process in place has helped to open valuable space for climate-compatible development discussions in the country, perhaps contributing for the first time to the inclusion of a green growth strategy in the national development plan. An ambitious INDC under a strong international framework could help take current efforts further towards building a long-term sustainable development path.

INDCs are a good move

A constructive aspect of the INDC process is the collaboration that it spurs between different countries in areas such as methodologies used and consultation processes. Colombia for example has had significant collaboration with AILAC countries as well as those under the MAPS programme such as Brazil, Chile, Peru, and South Africa. Furthermore, the process has helped climate champions inside the country to engage with other actors and sectors that might have otherwise taken longer to consider climate action in their plans.

This type of collaborative and positive exchange amongst countries and between national actors is the kind of action that could help to effectively join forces to tackle climate change, the impacts of which will affect us all regardless of national borders or lifestyle. Therefore, even at this early stage, the INDCs are a step forward in the right direction.

Untapped opportunity to engage Colombian citizens in planning their own future

While technical work advances, little has been done to tap the immense opportunity that INDCs provide to engage citizens in shaping their future. The Colombian government is currently designing a consultation process that is expected to involve civil society groups and different actors from the private sector, and will be combined with a large-scale survey of how the public understands climate change and its impacts on the country. The government is also preparing an online platform to share information and communicate directly with a wider audience. However, as the timeframe for INDC submission tightens and little information is so far available on the processes, it remains unclear how inclusive and transparent these resources will be.

With historically weak foundations of civil society involvement, particularly around domestic climate policy, the INDC offers Colombia an exciting opportunity to set a historical precedent that can be built upon in the coming years. Moreover, Colombia does not need to start from scratch, but can instead use the great examples from Chile and Mexico – close partners in both the AILAC and the Pacific Alliance, and who are already opening up their own climate policies. The Colombian government can also tap into the positive momentum accruing from the interest and active work on climate issues by youth groups. In recent months Colombian youth have reached out to key actors in the national government and the AILAC to engage and learn more about Colombia’s role in the UNFCCC. This type of initiative is a necessary step to begin building robust public participation mechanisms for collaboration between civil society groups, the general public, and the government. Unfortunately, the general feeling in Colombia is still that of a lack of transparency regarding the INDC process and low levels of awareness among society regarding its significance. We sincerely hope that from now until the submission date the consultation process can be a productive way to strengthen the Colombian contribution. Citizen buy-in for climate and development policies can and should be enhanced through more open mechanisms of public participation.

From plans to practice

We find it promising that the government is keen on presenting a technically-sound INDC using the existing analytical infrastructure of climate policy as its base. The next critical step – and this is the most concrete opportunity we face – is to go beyond the “technical exercise”: the INDC is a political signal that the Colombian government will send to the world, to its citizens, to businesses, and to NGOs. That is why Colombian society must be part of the INDC design. If the INDCs are decided with little transparency and limited participation, then why would people or organizations be excited about it? If there is little domestic buy-in, how could it be implemented over time?

A strong INDC will be a product of the involvement of many stakeholders beyond the Ministry of Environment. A cross-sector ministerial approach is critical as well because long-term planning will not stand the test of time without a strong base across governmental ministries combined with civil society and the private sector. There is already awareness of this inside the Ministry of Environment, but the question remains how to increase cross-sectoral dialogue this year. Perhaps for now the most critical link is increasing and strengthening the involvement from the Ministry of Energy and Mines, the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the National Planning Department. This last entity is particularly crucial given its role in the national green growth plan for 2014-2018. Support from President Santos and other high-level officials will also be essential for the INDC to gain internal and external legitimacy.

For Colombians, the INDC presents a concrete opportunity to democratize and strengthen climate policy. We will have missed a huge opportunity if the INDC becomes just another exercise to assign numerical goals within high-level government plans. Colombia has been a leader in climate negotiations and has thus far taken real steps to advance the country’s climate resilience and transition to a low-carbon path. This leadership must now be followed by the prioritization of inclusive and transparent development plans that incorporate the challenges that climate change will increasingly present. The INDC provides a tremendous opportunity to do exactly this, allowing Colombian citizens to rethink and envision a low carbon and climate resilient development plan that can secure and improve their quality of life.

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