Colombia's climate action plan - paving the way for climate smart development?

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Colombia sent a strong signal that climate action - both mitigation and adaptation - is critical to achieving its development objectives with the formal submission of its contribution to the upcoming Paris climate agreement. Under the mitigation target described in its climate action plan, or Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), Colombia will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2030, as compared to a projected business-as-usual scenario. Colombia is further prepared to increase the ambition of this target to 30%, subject to the availability of international support. Colombia's INDC also includes a comprehensive adaptation component that seeks to build resilient economies, communities and ecosystems. Colombia's INDC document helps highlight that climate action is fundamentally a development issue - a question of how countries can create strong, healthy, resilient societies going forward. This is a message that should not be lost on Colombia's neighbors in Latin America and other countries that have yet to submit their climate action pledges in the lead up to the climate negotiations in Paris this December.

Source: Colombia INDC document

Colombia's 20% emission mitigation target means that by 2030, the country will emit 268 mtCO2e, or 4.6 ton CO2e per capita. In contrast, under a business as usual scenario the country would emit 335 mtCO2e, or 5.8 ton CO2e on a per capita basis. Emission reductions will be economy-wide, and the INDC notes there are priority measures for eight sectors. However, a key challenge will be to ensure emission reductions in the agriculture, forestry and land-use sector, currently the source of 58% of Colombia's greenhouse gases. In this regard, Colombia is already working through various mechanisms to reduce to zero the deforestation rate in its Amazon region. Yet it will also be critical to develop a clear plan for reducing energy emissions, the source of 32% of overall emissions, and transitioning toward non-conventional renewable energy sources.

The good news is that emission mitigation measures can be highly cost effective. According to Colombia's National Planning Department, in order to determine the emissions mitigation target the government first evaluated 60 greenhouse gas mitigation measures and found that the savings from fifty of these measures were higher than the implementation costs. The remaining ten mitigation options had implementation costs of up to US$30 per ton of CO2 reduced.

Colombia's INDC also puts significant emphasis on climate adaption, noting that building resilience is a national security issue. Among other things, the INDC's adaptation component seeks to prioritize adaptation in six key sectors of the economy,* develop adaptation indicators, and protect critical ecosystems such as the páramos ­- unique high altitude wetlands that produce 85% percent of the country's drinking water and help strengthen climate resilience.

Colombia's INDC document places climate action squarely in the context of national sustainable development -which is precisely what climate action is really about. It's significant that Colombia's INDC recognizes that in order for it to "develop and ensure its peace, equity and education objectives and to sustain them in the long term, it is essential to identify and utilize, opportunities to increase competitiveness, productivity and efficiency following a low-carbon pathway. Likewise, it is important for the country to adapt to the impacts of climate change and build its development on a resilient foundation."

A recent analysis by the National Planning Department offers a sobering reminder of just why taking ambitious action on climate change is so important for Colombia. The study found that doing nothing to address climate change would cost the country an average of US$1.2 billion annually through 2100. The agricultural sector would be the hardest hit with an estimated 7.4 percent decrease in productivity, in particular for staple crops like potatoes and corn. The transportation, fishing and livestock sectors would also be similarly impacted. As is the case all too often, the biggest burden would be borne by the most vulnerable sectors of the population with the poorest 20 percent seeing a drop in their capacity to purchase food. Hopefully, Colombia's INDC proposal will help set in motion actions to address these vulnerabilities.

The clock is now ticking for other countries in the region to present their own climate action plans. Colombia is just the fourth country from the Latin America and Caribbean region to officially submit its INDC following Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago. Meanwhile, Peru and Chile have released draft proposals for public consultations and other nations are moving forward with their own efforts. As Colombia's proposal shows, INDCs are an important mechanism for countries to start articulating how they will address the challenge of climate change and get on track toward a resilient, low-carbon development pathway.

*The six priority sectors are transport, energy, agriculture, housing, health, and trade, tourism and industry.

Available in Spanish here.