Colombia is vulnerable to climate change impacts, including through drought and sea-level rise. At the same time, Colombian cities frequently exceed World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines, with an estimated 60% of Colombians breathing polluted air. In 2019, approximately 13,000 premature deaths were attributable to outdoor fine particulate matter air pollution, according to Global Burden of Disease estimates.
Climate change and air pollution are closely linked, due to the same emission sources (energy, agriculture, waste), and because a subset of pollutants, called Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCPs) directly contribute to both. SLCPs include black carbon, a component of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution, as well as methane and hydrofluorocarbons. These linkages provide a substantial opportunity to develop integrated strategies to simultaneously improve air quality and human health locally, while contributing to global climate goals.
The Government of Colombia officially submitted its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) on December 29, 2020. This commitment includes a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 51% in 2030 compared to a baseline scenario. Colombia also committed to reducing black carbon by 40% compared to 2014 levels, becoming the third country to set a specific emissions reduction commitment for this pollutant in their NDC. The 40% emission reduction target was defined following a thorough modelling process.
By playing our part in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, Colombians will also benefit from lower air pollution, and the health benefits that this will bring.
Colombia’s NDC is considered one of the most ambitious in the Latin America and Caribbean region thus far, and is much more closely aligned with the country’s objective of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
“Our revised climate change commitment represents a substantial increase in ambition compared to our initial commitment submitted in 2015,” said Nicolás Galarza, Vice Minister of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development. “The inclusion of a specific target to reduce black carbon will ensure that, by playing our part in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, Colombians will also benefit from lower air pollution, and the health benefits that this will bring.”
According to Colombia’s first national emission inventory of black carbon and other air pollutants, the major sources of black carbon in Colombia include burning firewood for heating and cooking, diesel for transportation and non-road machinery, agricultural burning of sugar cane residue after harvest and brick production.
These sectors also emit other air pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and other particulates, and in some cases also emit greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. Therefore, taking action to reduce emissions from major black carbon sources can be an effective strategy to simultaneously mitigate climate change while achieving local benefits for air quality and human health.
The 40% reduction target to reduce black carbon is based on a robust assessment of existing laws, policies and plans across all major source sectors.
“The 40% reduction target to reduce black carbon is based on a robust assessment of existing laws, policies and plans across all major source sectors,” said Francisco Charry, Director of Climate Change and Risk Management of the Ministry of Environment of Colombia. “Half this target will be achieved through black carbon emission reductions from our greenhouse gas mitigation actions, and half through an additional set of actions that specifically target major black carbon source sectors.”
These additional mitigation actions include more stringent vehicle emission standards for road transport, and non-road machinery as well as reductions in agricultural burning. Key greenhouse gas mitigation actions with substantial black carbon reductions include switching to more efficient technologies for heating and cooking, which will improve air quality indoors and outdoors. Colombia included a total of 146 mitigation actions in its NDC.
Colombia has been a partner of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition since 2012 and worked with its National Planning Initiative (SNAP), which provides technical support on SLCPs and integrated air pollution and climate change planning.
“The inclusion of a target to reduce black carbon is the result of a long-term planning process within the Ministry of Environment of Colombia to understand the link between air pollution and climate change in the Colombian context,” said Mauricio Gaitán, Coordinator of the Urban Environmental Management Group.
In a year where human health has been at the forefront of people’s minds, the updated climate change commitment of Colombia emphasises that achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement can be an important mechanism to protect and improve health.
Helena Molin Valdés
The process included the development of Colombia’s National SLCP Strategy, which outlines a roadmap to include SLCP mitigation within all relevant planning processes in Colombia, including climate change planning.
“This planning on SLCPs will continue, and immediate next steps include quantifying the health and economic benefits from our climate change plans from the improved air quality, and working with municipalities and cities to identify how they can contribute to achieving these targets,” Mr Gaitán said.
Colombia will be updating its National Black Carbon Inventory in 2021 as part of preparations toward their next Biennial Update Report.
Helena Molin Valdés, Head of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition Secretariat, welcomed the integration of climate and air quality goals in Colombia’s NDC.
“In a year where human health has been at the forefront of people’s minds, the updated climate change commitment of Colombia emphasises that achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement can be an important mechanism to protect and improve health,” Ms. Molin Valdés said. “We look forward to continuing our long-standing and inspiring partnership with Colombia to help achieve their new levels of ambition, and urge all countries currently revising their climate change commitments to consider how the health of their citizens can be a driver of increased ambition to achieve our climate goals.”
Cross-posted from CCAC