Colombia’s economy has grown substantially in recent years, making intensive use of natural resources and with significant impacts on the environment. Colombian ecosystems are facing pressure from extractive industries, livestock ranching, road traffic, and urbanization. The armed conflict exacerbated environmental impacts (mainly through illegal mining, illicit crops, and deforestation). The establishment of coca and poppy crops, major financing sources for guerrillas and paramilitaries, has been a major trigger of extensive natural forest loss.
The Colombian economy shows little diversification in products with high added value, depending significantly on exports of hydrocarbons and mineral materials with high environmental impacts. In addition, the Colombian industry has relatively little involvement in global value chains, which limits the acquisition of cutting-edge technologies and investment in research to strengthen innovation technology and productivity. This lag in technological innovation is one of the major challenges to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.
Colombia’s agricultural sector utilizes a vast extent of land, consumes a large amount of water, and contributes to 55% of the country's GHG emissions. However, it generates approximately 15.5% of the employment and contributes with only 7.0% to the country’s GDP.
Ecosystem pressures stem from social and political issues including poverty, inequality, armed conflict, illegal crops, population growth, increasing per capita consumption, economic activities, and land management. Their combined environmental impacts can be seen in the land-use change process.
For instance, traditional and small farming have long impacted Latin American countries. However, new land uses driven by export-oriented, industrial agricultural policies and strong market conditions have intensively modified the ecosystems in recent decades.
Thus, the expansion of oil palm plantations has caused deforestation, landscape homogenization, pollution, biodiversity loss, and increased carbon emissions in Colombia. Despite its environmental impacts, the sector has admittedly contributed significantly to the country’s economic growth and income generation. However, this input-intensive, industrial agriculture also exacerbates problems associated with social inequalities as it favours the industry. Illicit crops have also had substantial impacts on land use change, social conflicts, and human and ecosystem health.
Key policies and governance approach
The 2019 National Strategy on Circular Economy is a roadmap jointly outlined by the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Commerce, and the Department of National Planning. The strategy seeks to promote production and consumption systems that make more efficient use of materials, water, and energy. It will consider the ecosystems’ recovery capacity, the circular use of material flows, and the extension of useful life, by implementing technological innovations, alliances and partnerships between actors and promoting business models that respond to the fundamentals of sustainable development.
Colombia’s 2018 Green Growth Policy aims to boost the productivity and economic competitiveness of the country by 2030, while ensuring the sustainable use of natural capital and social inclusion, in a manner compatible with the climate, to be implemented between 2018 and 2030. Within the framework of this policy, green growth will establish trajectories of growth that guarantee long-term economic development, conservation of natural capital, social welfare and climate security.
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
The National Strategy on Circular Economy includes performance indicators to evaluate the efficiency in the use of resources such as water trough productive systems.
Implementation of both strategies began recently, as such it is too soon to assess their efficiency.
Goals and Ambitions
The National Strategy on Circular Economy seeks to:
- Develop innovations in regulations, based on circular economy principles.
- Create a critical mass of new businesses and sustainable infrastructure based on incentives that promote circular economy principles.
- Promote research and strengthen the capacities of private and public organizations to develop innovations for productive transformation based on circular economy models.
- Design mechanisms of international cooperation that promote productive transformation towards circular economy models.
- Develop a circular economy information system with indicators based on material, water, and energy accounts, and their productivity in terms of added value.
- Promote a citizen culture in circular economy through massive communication programmes.
The Sustainable Production and Consumption Policy aims to:
- Redirect production and consumption patterns of Colombian society towards environmental sustainability, contributing to the businesses’ competitiveness and the well-being of the population.
- Create a critical mass of businesses that position good practises, as well as sustainable products and services, in the national and international market.
- Create a culture of sustainable production and consumption among public institutions, businesses, and consumers.
- Strengthen the country’s institutional framework for sustainable production and consumption.
Promote more efficient production systems and create awareness on the environmental costs of production and consumption, this presents a challenging opportunity to jointly meet some SDGs.
 Rodríguez, A., Binda, E., Ochoa-Quintero, J., Garcia, H., Gómez, B., Soto, C., Martínez, S., Clerici, N., 2020. Answering the right questions. Addressing biodiversity conservation in post-conflict Colombia. Environmental Science & Policy 104, 82-87.
 Ricaurte, L.F., Olaya-Rodríguez, M.H., Cepeda-Valencia, J., Lara, D., Arroyave-Suárez, J., Max Finlayson, C., Palomo, I., 2017. Future impacts of drivers of change on wetland ecosystem services in Colombia. Glob. Env. Change 44, 158-169.