The climate in Colombia is already changing. In the last twenty years, temperature has increased by at least 1°C. Maximum temperatures have risen by about 1°C per decade in the high mountains, and 0.6°C per decade in the sub-paramo regions. A statistically significant increase in rainfall between March and December was recorded between 1950 and 2006, which was partly offset by a decrease in June–April rains.
In the coming years, the climate is projected to change even further. Temperatures across Colombia are projected to continue rising, with mean monthly temperatures projected to rise by +1.88°C by the 2050s and by 3.88°C by the end of the century. The highest temperature rise is projected for the northeast. Extreme temperatures, analyzed in terms of the number of days above 35 degrees, are expected to rise significantly across the seasonal cycle, with the most pronounced changes occurring during September-October and March to May.
There is significant uncertainty on the future of rainfall patterns for Colombia. Most scenarios point to an overall increase in annual precipitation by the end of the century, but with significant regional variability. Rainfall is expected to increase in the Amazon basin and coastal areas and decrease in the highlands. The maximum amount of rain that falls in any 5-day period is projected to increase and the maximum period between rainy days is expected to decrease.
The ongoing and predicted changes in temperature and rainfall patterns will have direct or indirect adverse impacts on Colombia’s environment and key sectors of its economy.
Weather-related disasters are likely to continue, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities. For instance, infrastructure constructed on unstable mountains may experience increased damage and loss due to landslides and avalanches.
The frequency and intensity of riverine and coastal floods could increase. An increase in extreme rainfall events will likely cause localized flooding events. The lower basins and valleys of the principal rivers (Magdalena, Cauca, Sinnu, Atrato, and Putumayo) are highly susceptible to flooding. The country’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts are vulnerable to coastal flooding from rising seas and storm surges. Riverine floods, already a hazard across the country, are likely to get more pronounced as snow from the country’s glaciers melts faster due to rising temperatures. Coupled with the effects of the El Niño Southern Oscillation, both the frequency of floods and droughts will likely increase. Runoff levels are expected to rise in coastal regions and could affect areas that already exhibit prevalent floods and landslides, increasing erosion, and the occurrence of natural disasters.
Sea level on the Caribbean and Pacific Coast could increase by 40-60cm by 2050-2060 (compared to the 1961-1990 level). Millions of coastal inhabitants are at risk of exposure to flooding and damage to commerce and human settlements.
As temperatures continue to rise, critical glaciers are likely to disappear, further contributing to water shortages in the highlands. In addition to glacial retreat, water sources will also become vulnerable to saltwater intrusion thus compromising rural and municipal water supplies.
Rising temperatures are likely to (i) exacerbate existing conflicts for water between agricultural and livestock needs, and human populations needs, especially during the dry seasons; (ii) degrade water quality from surface sources; and (iii) increase pressures on urban zones as urbanization rates grow.
Increases in La Niña events will lead to higher incidence of droughts, affecting water supplies and crop production. Agriculture is highly vulnerable to increases in aridity, soil erosion, and desertification, all of which already pose serious problems and could in turn threaten food security.
Small-scale farmers are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to their dependency on rainfed agriculture for food production and income generation, as well as their limited capacity to adapt. Extreme weather events such as droughts negatively impact agro-pastoralists’ livelihoods due to the loss of productive assets, severely affecting their food security.
Vector-transmitted diseases malaria and dengue fever are also expected to increase with climate change.
Colombia has done very little to cause global warming. Colombia’s national GHG inventory estimated the country’s annual total emissions at 179.9 Mt of CO2e (0.3% of global emissions) and per capita emissions at 4.28 t of CO2e as of 2004 (as compared to the average of 11.06 t of CO2e per person in OECD countries for the same year).
The agriculture sector was the major source of GHG emissions in 2004, contributing 38.1% of total emissions. The energy use sector was the second largest source (36.7%), followed by the LULUCF sector (14.4%), waste, and industrial processes.
Total GHG emissions increased 38.5% from 129.92 Mt of CO2e in 1990 to 179.9 Mt of CO2e in 2004, particularly in the agriculture and energy sectors.
Despite this, climate change will likely have adverse impacts on the country’s environment and key sectors of its economy and will exacerbate climate-related hazards (rains, floods, droughts, frost, and extreme events such as ENSO) to which the country is highly exposed.
Key policies and governance approach
Colombia has submitted three national communications (in 2001, 2010, and 2018) to the UNFCCC, an initial Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in 2018, and an updated NDC in 2020. The updated NDC set climate change goals and measures for the 2020–2030 period and is aligned with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
In its updated 2020 NDC, Colombia pledged to contain its GHG emissions to at most 169.44 Mt CO2e in 2030 (a 51% reduction compared to the Business-as-usual scenario) and start reducing emissions by 2027 – 2030 to attain carbon neutrality by mid-century. The mitigation pledge encompasses all sectors of the economy, including a reduction in emissions from deforestation equivalent to reducing deforestation to 50,000 ha/year by 2030. The country will make use of cooperative and market approaches to meet the conditional pledge of attaining zero net deforestation in natural forests by 2030.
Colombia adopted its National Climate Change Adaptation Plan in 2011, the National Climate Change Policy in 2017, and the Climate Change Law in 2018. These instruments set the guidelines for addressing climate change issues in the country.
The 2017 National Climate Change Policy aims to incorporate climate change management into public and private decisions to transition towards a climate-resilient, low-carbon development path that reduces the risks of climate change. The long-term objective is for the country to be carbon neutral. Actions identified in the strategy fall under four pillars: (i) information, science, technology, and innovation; (ii) education, training, and public awareness; (iii) planning of climate change management; and (iv) financing and economic instruments.
The 2012 National Adaptation Plan identified the priorities for climate change adaptation and set five strategic lines to guide the various sectors and territories in the formulation of their adaptation plans: (i) Raise climate change awareness, (ii) Generate information and knowledge to evaluate climate risk, (iii) Land use planning, (iv) Implement adaptation actions, and (v) Strengthen response capacity. The plan envisions disaster risk management and climate change adaptation as complementary actions that have to be jointly addressed to safeguard the country’s development.
Climate change considerations have been mainstreamed into sectoral and territorial planning instruments. The National Development Plan 2010–2014 listed climate adaptation as a priority and established the National Climate Change System to improve institutional coordination. Sectoral and jurisdictional Integrated Plans for Climate Change Management have been formulated and adopted.
A National Adaptation Program for agriculture was launched in 2017, following the guidelines set by the 2012 National Adaptation Plan. Adaptation strategies to be implemented include varietal changes to certain crops or aligning planting dates with evolving rainfall patterns; irrigation systems to supplement water supply during dry periods for rice and other key crops; other crops would require specific adaptation strategies (e.g., migration of coffee crops to higher elevation areas or shading; planting sugar cane varieties resistant to higher temperatures and less water intensive, etc.).
Adaptation in the water resources sector should focus on (i) augmenting information on watershed management and climate change adaptation, (ii) mainstreaming climate data in decision making related to watershed management, and (iii) implementing systems to optimize water use in watersheds.
Adaptation options for the hydropower sector should focus on improved water resource management under changing conditions. Additional investments may need to be made to expand storage capacity, improving turbine efficiencies, or other engineering measures. Integrated water use management will be required as competing demands for water emerge through increased demand for other uses such as irrigation and urban demands.
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
As described in its Second Biennial Update Report, to the UNFCCC, Colombia has made significant progress in constructing the policy and institutional framework for addressing climate change issues.
Colombia’s updated 2020 NDC assessed the progress made in attaining the adaptation goals set by the 2015 NDC. As of 2020, only two of the ten adaptation goals set by the 2015 NDC had been achieved: Goal vi. Delineating 36 complexes of paramo ecosystems to be protected; and Goal vii. Increase by 2.5 million ha the coverage of the National System of Protected Areas. Little or no progress had been made in the others, and mitigation measures are still to be implemented.
The costs of implementing the mitigation and adaptation measures included in the NDC have not been yet estimated but it was recognized that the country’s resources would be insufficient and additional resources would be necessary to finance, develop or transfer the technology, and strengthen the government institutional capacities necessary to implement the mitigation and adaptation measures envisioned.
Initiatives and Development Plans
As part of the implementation of the NDC, a diverse portfolio of mitigation measures have been identified to attain the GHG emissions reduction goal. The measures include public policies and regulations, Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), sectoral programs, and individual projects; with scales of implementation ranging from the national to the municipal level and private sector.
Goals and Ambitions
Colombia’s National Development Plan 2018–2022 aims to reduce GHG emissions in 36 Mt of CO2e, halt deforestation by 2022, and increase electricity generation from renewable (solar and wind) sources from 22.4MW to 1,500MW, among other goals.
The costs of implementing the mitigation and adaptation measures included in the NDC have not been yet estimated but it has been recognized that the country’s resources would be insufficient and additional financial and technical resources would be necessary to implement the mitigation and adaptation measures envisioned.