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The Republic of Colombia lies in the northwestern part of South America, bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the north, the North Pacific Ocean and the Isthmus of Panama to the west, Ecuador and Peru to the south, and Brazil and Venezuela to the east. It is the 25th largest country in the world, covering 1,138,910 km² of land, with a 3,208-km long coastline along both the Pacific Ocean (1,448 km) to the east and the Caribbean Sea (1,760 km) to the north.

Colombia is a topographically diverse country traversed by the Andes Mountains with lowland plains in the east. The Andes, represented by the Cordillera Occidental, reach up to 5,000 m in elevation, and the Cordillera Central hosts several snow-covered volcanoes, including the Nevado del Ruiz and Nevado de Santa Isabel, that reach up to over 5,000 m in elevation. Between these mountains, which traverse the country, lies the Magdalena River valley, home to Colombia’s important oil reserves.

Colombia has five major geographic regions: the Caribbean lowlands; the Pacific lowlands; the Andean region, including three rugged parallel, north-south mountain ranges; the vast eastern and northeastern grassy plains, known as llanos; and the Amazon region, which is tropical rainforest. Colombia's insular region includes four small islands. Major rivers are the Magdalena, Cauca, and Putumayo.

Because of differences in elevation, Colombia exhibits wide regional differences in temperature and precipitation. Colombia’s climate is tropical along the coast and the eastern lowlands, and cooler in the highlands and Andes. The country’s topographic diversity defines three distinct climatic zones: the high elevation cold zones (tierra fría), located above 2,000 m asl, with mean annual temperatures ranging between 13°C–17°C, a temperate zone (tierra templada), located between 1,000 m–2,000 m, with mean annual temperatures of approximately 18°C, and a tropical zone (tierra caliente), which covers all areas below 1,000 m and mean annual temperatures of 24°C–27°C. Average annual rainfall is 2,630 mm, with significant differences across the country. The West Pacific coast and the Andean interior receive the highest amount of rain (approximately 6,000 –7,000 mm per year), while the drier steppe climates in the north and southwest receive less than 500 mm per year. The Andean regions experience a bimodal pattern of rains during April–June and October–December, while the northern Caribbean region experiences a single rainy season between May–October. Inter-annual rainfall variability is influenced by the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). ENSO events bring droughts and warmer weather, while La Niña events are associated with floods and cooler weather, particularly between June and August.

Colombia is a unitary republic administratively divided into 32 departments which are, in turn, subdivided into 1,097 municipalities [1].

Important National Context

With an estimated total population of 48.258 million inhabitants (48.8% men, 51.2% women) and 42.4 inhabitants per square kilometre (as of 2018, date of the latest population census), Colombia is the third most populous country in the Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC) region. The population is growing rapidly but with a decreasing rate and is projected to reach almost 62 million inhabitants by 2050. Half of the population is 26.8 years or younger (as of 2018). The 2018 census reported that whites and mestizo (of mixed white and Amerindian ancestry) constituted 86.2% of the population. The Afro-Colombian population, including blacks, mulattoes (mixed black and white ancestry), and zambos (mixed Amerindian and black ancestry), accounted for 9.34% of the population; the indigenous population for 4.4%; and the gypsy (Rom) population for 0.006%. The official language is Spanish but there are about 500,000 speakers of Amerindian languages, whose numbers are diminishing rapidly [2].

The spatial distribution of the population is highly uneven. Most of the country’s population is concentrated in the Andean highlands and along the Caribbean coast. The expansive eastern and southern llanos and tropical forests are home to less than 10% of the country’s population. The largely urban population reached 77.1% as of 2018. Internal armed conflict as well as the violence generated by the illegal drug-trafficking industry caused massive displacement of the rural population, and many people fled to the cities. Major cities include the capital city, Bogotá (home to over 7.4 million inhabitants, as of 2018), Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, and Cartagena [2], [3].

In 2007, Colombia had the fifth-largest economy in Latin America (after Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Venezuela). It holds substantial petroleum reserves, South America’s most extensive coal reserves, and significant but largely untapped natural gas reserves.

With a Human Development Index of 0.767 and a Gross National Income per capita of $6,570 as of 2019, Colombia is regarded as a high human development, upper middle-income country.

GDP grew by 3.3% in 2019 and was on track to accelerate further in 2020, however, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the economy hard, causing the worst recession in almost half a century and GDP shrank by 6.8% in 2020. In 2007, agriculture accounted for 13% of GDP, industry (including manufacturing and construction) for 29%, and services for the remaining 58%. Agriculture is an important source of export earnings and food security in Colombia. Coffee, produced at largely small scales, has long been the backbone of Colombia’s agriculture, and the country is one of the major exporters of coffee in the world. Tropical fruits such as bananas and plantains, along with sugarcane are also important crops. Cattle production is widespread, and the country’s dairy industry is growing. Colombia is one the world’s top exporters of palm oil.

This economic growth and resulting job creation have been the main drivers of Colombia’s impressive progress in poverty reduction. Extreme poverty fell from 17.7% to 8.1% from 2002 to 2014, while general poverty decreased from 49.7% to 28.5%, countrywide, lifting 6.7 million people out of poverty. Nevertheless, poverty rate is still higher than the Latin American average. Large historical disparities persist between urban and rural areas. General/extreme poverty fell from 45.5/12.2 to 24.6/5.1% in urban areas from 2002 to 2014, but only from 61.7/33.1 to 41.4/18% in rural areas.

Colombia’s wealth is heavily concentrated in the country’s capital city, Bogota, and major cities such as Medellin and Cali; most rural regions remain severely underdeveloped, with Choco being the poorest province. The Gini coefficient was 49.7 in 2017, the sixth highest in the LAC region and among the twenty most unequal countries in the world [2], [3].

Colombia currently has decent telecommunication systems and internet services. In 2005, 96.8% of the population had access to electricity (99.3% vs. 88.9% in urban vs. rural areas), fixed telephone services had a coverage of only 18 subscriptions per 100 people, the penetration of cellular phone services was 51.2 subscriptions per 100 people, and only 11% of the population were using the internet. Access to electricity increased to 99.8% (100% vs. 98.8% in urban vs. rural areas), fixed telephone services decreased to 13.9 subscriptions per 100 people, the penetration of cellular phone services increased to 131.7 subscriptions per 100 people, and 65% of the population were using the internet by 2019 [3].

The National Development Plan 2018–2022 aims to increase electricity generation capacity from renewable sources (wind, solar, others) from 22.4 MW to 1,500 MW to mitigate climate change, and expand the electricity grid by including non-conventional energies.

Colombia is highly vulnerable to extreme events, as it routinely experiences damaging droughts and, particularly, floods triggered by La Niña events. Vulnerability hotspots include the Caribbean and the Andean regions, with key sectors including housing, transport, energy, agriculture, and health. For instance, heavy rains in 2010 and 2011 left over $6 billion in damages to crops and infrastructure and displaced many. Highland areas, where most of the population resides, are prone to landslides and floods due to increased surface run off from snow melt and extreme rainfall upon degraded high elevation forests which, additionally, increases sediment loads. Droughts are common between January and March and July and September and can lead to water supply shortages for human and agricultural needs.

El Niño events produce high temperatures and severe droughts, damaging agricultural output and threatening operation of hydroelectric power plants which produce most of the country’s electricity supply.

The last 60 years of Colombia’s history have been marked by armed conflict. First, the unequal distribution of land and the lack of opportunities for political participation gave rise to the use of violence and armed struggle. This escalated later with the emergence of drug trafficking, narco-terrorism, and the entry of new political and armed actors in a context of revolutionary struggle.

The origin of the guerrillas is related to socioeconomic exclusion and the lack of spaces for free political participation. Among the most notorious guerrillas are the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, People's Army (FARC-EP), the National Liberation Army (ELN), the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and the April Nineteenth Movement (M-19)). Each movement has responded to a particular political, ideological, and military conception, reflecting the fragmentation of Colombian left.

Paramilitaries are extreme right-wing groups that multiplied in the 1980s as a consequence of the promulgation of Law 48 of 1968 through which the Colombian State allowed the privatization of armed forces at the hands of civilians protected by the interests of regional elites. The paramilitaries spread thanks to the support of wealthy ranchers and small industrialists.

Conflicts between political groups, guerrillas and paramilitaries were exacerbated by the rise of Colombia as the world’s largest producer of coca leaves.

A peace accord between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government was signed in 2016. The accord ended a 52-year armed conflict and brought an initial decline in violence.

In June 2017, the United Nations political mission for Colombia verified that the FARC guerrillas that accepted the peace agreement had handed over their weapons to the mission. The demobilized guerrilla group later announced it was forming a political party. But a minority of dissident guerrilla fighters rejected the terms of the peace agreement, refused to disarm, and continue to commit abuses. Other FARC fighters disarmed initially but joined or created new groups, partly in reaction to inadequate reintegration programs and attacks against former fighters. As of August 2020, more than 300 former FARC fighters had been killed. 

Civilians in various parts of the country have suffered abuses at the hands of National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas, FARC dissidents, and paramilitary successor groups. Human rights defenders, journalists, indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders, and other community activists face death threats and violence. The government has taken insufficient measures to protect them. 

Conflict-related violence has displaced more than 8.2 million Colombians since 1985; over 75,000 people were displaced only in 2019. Land restitution under the 2011 Victims’ Law continues to make slow progress. The law was enacted to restore millions of hectares left behind by or stolen from internally displaced Colombians during the conflict. As of August 2021, the courts had issued rulings in only 11,300 out of over 125,000 claims filed. The COVID-19 pandemic and its related restrictions hampered the work of humanitarian agencies helping displaced people in Colombia [4], [5].

Environmental Governance

Environmental management in Colombia is decentralized, democratic, participatory, and based on the National Constitution. The National Environmental System (SINA) defines mechanisms for the sustainable management of ecosystems by both the government and the civil society. The Ministry of Environment is the principal environmental authority, supported by several specialized agencies such as the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Biological Resources Research, the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and Environmental Studies (IDEAM), the Amazonian Institute for Scientific Research (SINCHI), and others. Other entities with environmental management responsibilities include the regional autonomous environmental corporations, the Special Administrative Unit of National Natural Parks (UAESPNN), six Environmental Urban Authorities (AAU), and the National Authority of Environmental Licenses (ANLA).

National context alignement with the EU Green Deal

The EU and its Member States are long time partners of Colombia. Peace and stability remain at the forefront of common political interests, as do efforts to adapt to and mitigate the impact of climate change, protect the environment and promote green growth, in line with the principles underpinning the EU Green Deal [6].

Colombia’s National Development Plan 2018–2022 encompasses two major strategic lines (referred to as “pacts”), Rule of Law and Entrepreneurship, whose foundation is formed by 13 cross-cutting strategic lines. Key objectives of the cross-cutting Pacts for Sustainability and for Energy Resources are entirely consistent with the EU’s focus on prioritizing climate action consistent with the Paris Accord. For instance, the first objective of the Pact for Energy Resources aims at utilizing alternative energy resources in order to reduce the country’s impact on global warming, by increasing the participation of biofuels in the country’s energy mix. The first objective of the Pact for Sustainability aims to implement strategies and economic instruments, with a circular economy approach, to make production sectors more sustainable, innovative, and reduce their environmental impact, implementing measures that reduce GHG emissions in order to meet the country’s pledges to the Paris Accord by 2030.

Similarly, the second objective of the Pact for Sustainability is fully consistent with the EU’s Biodiversity and Forest Strategies. This objective aims to halt deforestation and other environmental crimes through better territorial regulation, creation of sustainable economic opportunities at the local level, and implementing a national strategy for ecosystem restoration that includes payment for environmental services and other economic incentives for nature conservation.

Key Environmental-Development Challenges

One of Colombia’s greatest opportunities — access to its under-utilized rural areas made possible by the peace agreement — is simultaneously the source of its greatest risk to long-term natural resource sustainability. Inadequate forest, land, and natural resource management and land-use planning (including in the oil, mining, and agricultural sectors) could lead to deforestation and land degradation.


Climate Change

Due to its geographical location, Colombia is highly exposed to natural hazards and climate change. Climate related disasters comprise nearly 90% of the emergencies reported in the country between 1998–2011 with significant economic losses. For example, floods triggered by the 2010–2011 La Niña event caused significant losses. Yields of rice, vegetables, and maize decreased; the livestock sector suffered flooding of 1,165,413 hectares (about 3% of the livestock area); over 470 people lost their lives due to the proliferation of water-borne illnesses by damages to water and sanitation infrastructure; and over 525 homes were affected. The country has endured various natural hazards, including floods, landslides, epidemic diseases, storms, earthquakes, and droughts, costing lives and economic damage.

Inadequate disaster risk management in urban, coastal, and agricultural areas would allow the current trend of high and increasing costs of natural disasters to continue, which might be exacerbated by climate change.



Environmental sustainability and resilience are closely tied to Colombia’s future development. The country's abundant water bodies have long been degraded by industrial and municipal pollution, by guerrilla sabotage of oil pipelines, and chemicals used in the coca-refining process.

Air pollution in Colombia’s largest cities and the insufficient treatment of wastewaters threaten both public welfare and economic growth (through adverse impacts on competitiveness). Other issues include deforestation in the Amazon and the Choco region on the Pacific coast and the use of herbicides.