Colombia’s climate commitments: is it an achievable goal?

NewsColombia's climate commitments: is it an achievable goal?

The organization Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad, together with El Espectador (a national newspaper), developed a congress to discuss the steps that Colombia should follow to reduce 51% of its emissions by 2030. The protection of forests, the participation of various sectors and sustainable economic recovery will be key to this.

In 2020, the Government made an announcement that surprised many. The Minister of Environment, Carlos Correa, pointed out that Colombia had committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 51% by 2030. The goal is part of the update of climate commitments that the country presented before the Paris Agreement (The most important global pact that exists to prevent the increase in the Earth’s temperature from being greater than 2 ° C).

Although the new engagement was celebrated for its ambition, it also raised many questions. The most important, perhaps, was whether the country will have the capacity to comply it. How to go from word to action? Seeking to resolve part of these doubts, the organization Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad, in association with El Espectador, held the congress “Colombia’s climate commitments: is it a goal that can be achieved?”, Where four experts in the field explained what are the challenges and advances of Colombia and how it would be the step by step so that, effectively, by 2030 this mission will have been a reality.

Pablo Vieira, Global Director of the NDC Partnership, began by providing context for the situation. He explained that these NDC (Nationally Determined Contributions) commitments represent the goal that each country set, taking into account: its capacity, experience and historical responsibility to reduce its emissions. Additionally, the so-called developed countries are to improve their adaptation and contribute economically so that other countries can move forward too. “The first NDCs were presented in 2015, when the Paris Agreement was signed,” he commented. “But as these were not enough to reach the objective of avoiding a temperature increase greater than 2 ° C, a cycle was created in which, every five years, each country has to update them under the criteria of increased ambition and greater commitment. This in order to reach carbon neutrality by the middle of the century.”

This is how Colombia went from committing to reduce its emissions from 20% in 2015 to 51% in 2020. But the increase in this figure was not arbitrary. The foregoing was commented by José Francisco Charry, director of climate change and risk management at the Ministry of the Environment. The update of the climate commitment (NDC) is a process that began to work fifteen months ago. First, he explained, a diagnosis was made of the progress of the 2015 goals and then to see what the current capacities of the country are. “It is an update that involved more than a hundred people, multiple organizations and a process of dialogue with more than 200 workshops throughout the country.” After these instances, the document determined 198 measures that Colombia must implement.

During the discussion, as Anders Krogh (policy advisor to the Rainforest Foundation Norway) commented, more than a third of Colombia’s emissions come from deforestation and a large part of these are from the Amazon region. Regarding this relationship, the expert pointed out that he is concerned that, both in its diagnosis and in its future implementation, the country’s climate commitments do not take into account the emissions as a result of forest degradation; because these are not being accounted for.

Added to this concern to protect the Amazon as a key challenge for the NDCs was María Alejandra Aguilar, Climate Justice Coordinator of la Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad. “One of the problems is that the Amazon basin is in several countries. So, there has to be a coordinated work against deforestation, which has many drivers, such as illegality and the expansion of the agricultural frontier,” She also recalled that enforcing the “Pacto de Leticia” (an agreement with which the countries manage this ecosystem) will be an important tool to comply with.

Although several themes emerged during the event, two were mentioned repeatedly. One of those that attracted the most attention was: how to get Colombia to maintain a path of climate sustainability in the scenario of the economic recovery after the coronavirus? In other words, how to ensure, they are not contradictory speeches? When asked about the government’s insistence on continuing with extractive projects, which generate many emissions, Charry, from the Ministry of the Environment, commented that an energy transition model to unconventional renewable energy sources is already beginning. Initiative that also must take into account the participation of employment.

Given all the above points, Aguilar, from Ambiente y Sociedad, recalled that: “thinking about an immediate economic recovery aimed at the exploitation of hydrocarbons, as a quick response to the financial crisis, would delay this decarbonization process.”

The second point that the experts spoke about was, how to get everyone, and not just the Government, to participate in the implementation of climate commitments? Vieira, from the NDC Partnership, mentioned, for example, at his organization, they created an action plan for young people to work together with governments to define these objectives. A stage to which Charry also tagged along, explaining that the Government is beginning to create a ten-year implementation plan of the NDC, which will be collaborative and participatory. “We are going to start with ten high-level workshops, one with the private sector, another with civil society, academia, cooperation and specific experts, to collect inputs for the document.”

Aguilar, on her side, listed the tools that citizens can turn to if they wanted to be participants and observers of this process. “The Paris Agreement adopts the Enhanced Transparency Framework, which includes procedures and guidelines to facilitate NDC monitoring and reporting.” At the national level, moreover, “in its climate commitments, Colombia mentions that it will consolidate a follow-up plan for the NDC. We have the National System of Climate Change (SISCLIMA) and the regional nodes of climate change as participation mechanisms”.

Towards the end, the congress left an elementary idea: Colombia’s climate commitments can be achieved, as long as we make them a goal of all. And as Krogh said in some of his interventions: “no other task rather than the NDC´s should be carried out at the cost of increasing the degradation of the Amazon system.”