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A Call for Climate Action and Sustainable Development in Colombia

Líbano, Colombia
El Líbano: A key coffee-producing region nestled in the Western Andes Mountains of Tolima Department, Colombia.

Climate change in Colombia has led to rising temperatures, impacting various aspects of life. In regions like El Líbano, traditional agricultural practices, notably coffee cultivation, have been altered. Additionally, the shift from traditional cooling methods to increased reliance on air conditioning highlights the changing climate's effect on daily life. This change has also influenced food preservation practices, necessitating refrigeration where it was previously unnecessary.

Furthermore, ecological disruptions are evident, leading to increased water needs among humans, animals, and plant species. The rise in rainfall has contributed to land erosion and the degradation of ecological landscapes, particularly in tropical ecosystems. Of significant concern is the accelerated melting of snow on the Andes mountains, predicted to result in a complete absence of snow within the next decade. This emphasizes the urgent need for climate action in Colombia.


The World Bank Group has recently approved $750 million in loans to combat the impacts of climate change in Colombia, a country ravaged by the effects of a warming globe and the over-extraction of the earth’s resources (Latin Finance, 2024). Efforts to prevent further environmental degradation and promote sustainable development are paramount for the wellbeing of Colombians today and in the future. One way the country has begun tackling the challenge to develop and prevent further exacerbations to the environment is through initiatives for ecological restoration and sustainable development.

The concept of development is rooted in the aspiration for lasting societal change. Historically, countries that grappled with economic challenges following their independence from European colonial powers were often categorized as 'developing,' in contrast to the highly industrialized nations with robust economies, which were labeled as 'developed.' Today, the categorization of nations into developed and underdeveloped persists. However, numerous scholars contend that the terminology is outdated. They argue that it oversimplifies the complex realities of global economic and social dynamics. It fails to acknowledge that development is a continuous process, and no country has achieved complete development.

United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

In 2015, the United Nations established 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), formerly known as the 8 Millennium Development Goals, which have since undergone refinement. Sustainable development, as defined by the United Nations as 'development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,' is a vital agenda (United Nations, 2016). It aims to promote development uniformly across all countries, ensuring equitable progress for current and future generations. The UN plays a major role in development efforts through various agencies, programs, and initiatives aimed at promoting sustainable development, reducing poverty, improving healthcare, advancing education, and fostering economic growth worldwide. The terminology now emphasizes sustainability more explicitly, and the goals and targets aim to be achieved by the year 2030. Each country had the freedom in 2015 to choose which goals were most important based on its own situation and plans for development. This led to different ways of understanding and working towards the SDGs around the world, showing how each country has its own needs and goals (Curry Alder, 2022).

Colombia is one of the many countries around the world that faces the combined challenge of tackling the global threat of climate change alongside the aspiration to develop sustainably. How to combine environmental protection with economic development has become a more important question in this context. Based on recent studies, the following perspective provides an overview of responses in Colombia to the linked challenges of climate resilience and sustainable development and tries to unravel the complexities of climate change and sustainable development in Colombia.

Climate Change Perception and Awareness

In Colombia, development stands as an essential goal, prompting a thorough observation of the nation's strategies in addressing the intertwined challenges of climate resilience and sustainable development. Understanding how climate change is perceived and the extent of awareness among various stakeholders serves as a cornerstone for establishing nuanced policies and prioritizing regional objectives tailored to Colombia's unique circumstances and developmental trajectories.

A detailed examination of development initiatives within Colombia’s Antioquia Department reveals pronounced socio-economic disparities across its nine sub-regions (Londoño Pineda and Cruz Cerón, 2019). This localized analysis underscores the necessity for customized approaches to address varying levels of development instability and promote equitable growth. By recognizing and responding to these disparities, Colombia can lay the groundwork for inclusive and sustainable expansion, ensuring that every community progresses together and no one is left behind. 

Magdalena River Basin, Antioquia, Colombia
Local fishermen navigate through the marshland of Barbacoas in the mouth of the Magdalena River Basin in Antioquia, Colombia

Additionally, in assessing sustainable development in Antioquia, it's clear that while there are numerous indicators at the sub-regional level, many don't directly align with the 2030 Agenda's definition of sustainable development. This highlights the necessity for subnational governments to develop indicators covering all 17 sustainable development goals comprehensively. Addressing this lack of relevant indicators would enable policymakers to more accurately gauge progress towards the SDGs and tailor interventions to address specific challenges in each sub-region. Antioquia Department demonstrates strength in achieving Goal 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), boasting robust energy infrastructure, particularly exemplified by the efficient performance of Empresas Publicas de Medellin (EPM), one of Latin America's most efficient electric companies. However, deficiencies are noticeable in Goal 15 (Terrestrial Ecosystem Life), indicating the need for enhanced policies to safeguard mountain and river areas. 

Critical to furthering these objectives is the effort to bridge existing data gaps and synchronize Colombia's efforts with international development agendas. Data alignment refers to the process of ensuring that different datasets are compatible and can be integrated seamlessly. By aligning its data with global standards and collaborating with international partnerships and organizations, Colombia can enhance its initiatives for inclusive growth and sustainable development. Policymakers who understand Colombia's development challenges and have access to comprehensive data can design better strategies to address disparities and promote fair progress, bringing the nation closer to its development goals.

In addition to strategies customized for Colombia and adjustments to development goals tailored to specific regions within the country, promoting collaboration among stakeholders is crucial for effectively implementing and sustaining development initiatives. By involving various groups such as local communities, governments, NGOs, and international partners, Colombia can create a strong sense of ownership and resilience in its development efforts. This cooperation helps combine resources, knowledge, and ideas, leading to effective solutions for addressing disparities and promoting fair progress. Collaboration also boosts community resilience and improves the chances of long-term success in achieving development goals. Through collaboration, Colombia can utilize the strengths and perspectives of all stakeholders to drive progress and protect the well-being of its communities. By promoting partnership and inclusivity, the nation can move towards sustainable development that benefits everyone, ensuring a prosperous and resilient future for all Colombians.

Policy Recommendations for Climate Action

Climate change, primarily driven by greenhouse gas emissions, has profound impacts on society, the economy, and the environment, particularly in regions across Colombia. Understanding public perceptions and beliefs is crucial for developing effective adaptation and mitigation strategies. Research focusing on vulnerability and adaptation emphasizes the importance of considering socio-economic, cultural, and environmental factors (Pardo Martínez and Alfonso P., 2018). Limited research in countries like Colombia highlights the necessity of understanding public attitudes to guide policy decisions effectively.

Magdalena River, Colombia
Map of the Magdalena River basin, illustrating its path through the tropical segment of the Andes Mountain range in Colombia, dividing the Western and Eastern Andes.

A study conducted across Colombia found widespread recognition of climate change, particularly in the Central Magdalena region, where participants associated it with temperature fluctuations, heavy rainfall, contamination, and climate variability. Regional environmental conditions and cultural patterns influence these perceptions, with rainfall and disease emerging as primary concerns. Despite exposure to information on mitigation and adaptation practices through media and educational campaigns, doubts persist regarding their effectiveness due to limited integration into daily life and public awareness. Television and the internet emerge as the primary sources of climate change information.

To enhance communication on climate change, establishing effective links between stakeholders and considering factors like message framing, audience, and communication channels are essential. Recommendations include increasing local government analysis of climate change effects on productive sectors, empowering competencies for adaptation and mitigation processes, and developing research to create effective policy instruments for climate change awareness and adaptation.

Crucially, promoting inclusive climate governance involving all stakeholders, enhancing public and private investments in climate change prevention and mitigation, and coordinating initiatives at both national and regional levels are key suggestions. Highlighting the importance of perception studies in shaping climate change policy and ensuring inclusive participation is vital. Future research should focus on understanding the relationships among risk, vulnerability, and perception to develop tailored strategies for climate governance based on regional characteristics and cultural diversity in Colombia.

Linking Sustainable Development with Biodiversity Conservation

Agricultural expansion, especially in tropical regions like rural Colombia's Central Magdalena, presents a significant challenge with far-reaching implications for both the environment and socio-economic factors. To understand how agricultural expansion, biodiversity conservation, and rural development interact, researchers used a combination of scenario and network analyses along with sustainability assessment (Boron et al., 2016). This method aims to identify the factors driving changes in the physical landscape of different regions in Colombia and develop strategies to resolve conflicting goals.

Líbano, Colombia
The town of Líbano in the Tolima Department of Colombia, near the Magdalena River basin.

Three distinct environmental and agricultural policy scenarios were investigated, revealing that the scenario reflecting the continuation of existing practices and policies without significant changes lacked stakeholder support and had adverse effects on sustainability dimensions, exacerbating social inequality and threatening biodiversity and food security. In contrast, alternative scenarios demonstrated overall improvements in sustainability outcomes, emphasizing the need for enhanced regulatory frameworks and incentive schemes tailored to benefit small-scale farmers to reconcile agricultural expansion with biodiversity preservation and sustainable development.

Achieving biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in regions like the Central Magdalena requires a multifaceted approach, including coordinated policy and decision-making across different administrative levels, robust land use planning and enforcement, and prioritizing support for small farmers. The integration of scenario analysis, network analysis, and sustainability assessment provides a comprehensive methodological tool for addressing the intricate challenges posed by agricultural expansion, facilitating proactive management and policy recommendations tailored to regional characteristics and cultural diversity.

Student Perspectives on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Colombia's universities are pivotal in advancing sustainable development by shaping the perspectives and capacities of future leaders. Understanding student attitudes and knowledge regarding sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is essential for effective SDG implementation. Expanding research efforts to encompass diverse student populations and leveraging technology for efficient data collection and curriculum delivery are key strategies (Alvarez-Risco et al., 2021).

Bogota Universities
Bogotá, the cultural hub, main city, and capital of the country, is home to a total of 38 universities. This map shows these universities.

By conducting surveys and interviews, universities can gain insights into student priorities and aspirations related to sustainability. This information can inform the development of tailored educational initiatives and programs that equip students with the skills and knowledge necessary for sustainability-focused careers. Utilizing digital platforms and educational technologies further enhances the reach and impact of sustainability education within universities, facilitating interactive learning experiences and collaboration among students and faculty.

Overall, integrating sustainability principles into university curricula, expanding research on student perspectives, and leveraging technology are crucial steps toward fostering a culture of sustainability within Colombia's higher education institutions. By equipping students with the tools and knowledge to address sustainability challenges, universities play a vital role in driving progress towards the achievement of the SDGs and a more sustainable future for Colombia and beyond.


The challenges of sustainable development and climate resilience in Colombia are crucial, as emphasized by recent initiatives and the country's commitment to addressing these issues. From recognizing socio-economic disparities to advocating for inclusive governance and incorporating biodiversity conservation into policy frameworks, Colombia is taking significant steps towards a more sustainable future. Collaboration among stakeholders, innovative solutions, and inclusive approaches will be key in overcoming these challenges and ensuring the well-being of present and future generations. Through concerted efforts and strategic interventions, Colombia can lead towards a course of prosperity, equity, and resilience in the face of global environmental challenges.

The tropical region of Colombia's Western Andes Mountains near Líbano in Tolima Department.



  1. Alvarez-Risco, Aldo, Shyla Del-Aguila-Arcentales, Marc A. Rosen, Verónica García-Ibarra, Sandra Maycotte-Felkel, and Gabriel Mauricio Martínez-Toro. (2021). "Expectations and Interests of University Students in COVID-19 Times about Sustainable Development Goals: Evidence from Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru." Sustainability, 13(6), 3306.

  2. Boron, V., Payán, E., MacMillan, D., & Tzanopoulos, J. (2016). "Achieving sustainable development in rural areas in Colombia: Future scenarios for biodiversity conservation under land use change." Land Use Policy, 59, 27-37.

  3. Curry Alder, Bruce. “The politics of the sustainable development goals,” Ch. 20 in Handbook on the Politics of International Development, U.K.: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2022.

  4. Londoño Pineda, A., & Cruz Cerón, J. G. (2019). "Evaluation of sustainable development in the sub-regions of Antioquia (Colombia) using multi-criteria composite indices: A tool for prioritizing public investment at the subnational level." Environmental Development.

  5. Pardo Martínez, C.I. and Alfonso P., W.H. (2018), "Climate change in Colombia: A study to evaluate trends and perspectives for achieving sustainable development from society", International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 632-652.

  6. The Nature Conservancy. "Climate Change Adaptation for Communities in the Wetlands of the Magdalena River Basin."

  7. United Nations. "What is sustainable development?" The Sustainable Development Agenda.,to%20meet%20their%20own%20needs.&text=Sustainable%20development%20calls%20for%20concerted,future%20for%20people%20and%20planet.

  8. Goicochea, Hernán. "World Bank Approves Loan for Colombia." Latin American Financial Publications, Inc., April 2, 2024.,news%20agency%20reported%20on%20Monday.


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