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Can sustainable development be accelerated?

Politiques publiques | Les pays

Écrit pour la session 43 – Accélérer le développement durable

1 – Introduction

Given my recent experience as former Minister of Agriculture of Colombia, I will focus on my country, but I will try to extend the analysis to Latin America. The current Colombian government’s program could be defined as a Sustainable Development Agenda (SDA) 15 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), are part of the plan. Even though President Petro has been in power less than a year, Colombia’s experience can offer some evidence, positive and negative, of trying to accomplish this agenda. It is interesting to acknowledge that the results of the SDA in Colombia and Latin America continue to be similar. After describing the main characteristics of president Petro’s program, I will try to identify the barriers for the SDA in developing societies. This analysis could contribute to some degree to the debate about finding ways of achieving the SDG.

2« Change for life, » president petro’s program

While it has not been declared as such, the actual governing program is an SDA, with the principles of peace, justice and strong institutions reflecting the government’s slogan of “life and peace.” The only two SDG that are included but with a lower emphasis are: 11, “Sustainable cities and communities » and 12, “Responsible consumption and production.”

In a country where peace is the exception, the government’s commitment to talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) remains the most important achievement. While there are some doubts about the success of this treaty, the ceasefire and peace talks signify the most important step forward since the 2016 accord with the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).

The government’s second biggest issue after peace, is sustainable development. As oil and minerals represent 51% of Colombia’s exports, in the short run, there is no way to substitute these revenues. Furthermore, while there have been attempts to stop reliance on fossil fuels for energy, new eco-friendly projects have been halted by social and environmental reasons.

President Petro’s inclusion strategies are necessary since Colombia has one of the worst indicators of inequality. Yet the social reforms, health, pensions, and labor, presented by the government have not been approved by Congress. Nevertheless, the possibility of income transfers for the elderly poor, not yet covered, might happen. Also, popular economy support to micro enterprises, subsidized credit, commercialization, and increase in productivity are strategies being implemented. Concluding that undoubtedly the SDA in Colombia is moving at a slow pace. As will be shown with the following graph, Latin America’s agenda is also moving at a slow pace (CEPAL, 2023, p.86). Almost all SDG have setbacks and a lot of them are advancing very slowly and will most likely not reach the target by 2030.

3 – Possible explanation

« To renew hope, » the main purpose of this meeting, implies identifying ways that could accelerate efforts to achieve the SDG. So far, it is evident that these goals will not be reached. Therefore, it is important to recognize the barriers that make it impossible. Colombia’s experience suggests that a main problem could be that climate change resilience has not been correctly understood in developing societies. They have adopted the rich countries message, as seen in President Petro’s discourse. He claims that reduction of emissions is the immediate action that all nations should take, ignoring that the problem of developing nations is the impact of the climate crisis on the population.

Two strategies were recommended in the Paris Accord: adaptation and mitigation. Adaptation addresses the causes of inequalities and builds resilience to climate hazards. Mitigation are those policies that demand human intervention to reduce emissions (UN, 2016, p.78). It is evident that developing societies need adaptation strategies while rich societies need urgent mitigation actions.

Although the reduction of poverty and inequality are identified as requirements for a SDA, now the focus is mitigation. Why did that link disappear? Why is mitigation and not adaptation the discourse in rich and poor societies? In other words, why do rich society’s interests dominate the climate change debate? Since mitigation efforts are 16 times more funded than adaptation projects (UN, 2016, p.10), the answer could be that funds coming from rich countries dictate developing societies actions.

4 – Missing elements

One of the most evident points has not been considered. That is transition, as it is evident that time is needed to move from a carbonized economy to one decarbonized. Colombia is a good example of this lack of understanding of this complex process. Transition is needed to transform the productive system to assure new sources of economic growth. It is evident that new productive sectors must replace oil and minerals where the agricultural sector is key in the process. Why transition is so difficult to understand, is another crucial question that needs answers.

Transition is also needed in terms of trade with developed nations, especially with the EU, since deforestation in developing countries is now a trade barrier. Time is also needed for governments to implement effective strategies that should consider the situation of the people that need alternative ways of living and the implementation of a mechanism of control of illegal activities. One final recommendation, leaders of developing societies should demand polluters immediate reduction of emissions.

There are two additional missing elements. First, demand for mitigation ignores the potential of developing countries to supply instruments for decarbonization (Hausmann, 2023). Finally, emphasis in goals and not in means, can explain lack of support from the international community.

5 – Can sustainable development be accelerated ?

Only structural changes can make it possible. In developed countries: real commitment with the means accorded for sustainable development. Rich countries should finance mitigation and offer support to developing countries for supply of instruments for decarbonization. Developing countries should stop reproducing the discourse of rich societies and must concentrate on adaptation to reduce the vulnerability of their population.

Cecilia López, President CiSoe


Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. (2023). Halfway to 2030 in Latin America and the Caribbean: Progress and recommendations for acceleration. CEPAL. https://www.cepal.org/es/publicaciones/48823-america-latina-caribe-la-mitad-camino-2030-avances-propuestas-aceleracion

Hausmann, R. (2023, May 30). The Supply Side of Decarbonization | by Ricardo Hausmann. Project Syndicate. https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/balancing-the-supply-and-demand-sides-of-decarbonization-by-ricardo-hausmann-2023-05

United Nations. (2016, October 3). World Economic and Social Survey 2016: Climate Change Resilience: An Opportunity for Reducing Inequalities | Department of Economic and Social Affairs. https://www.un.org/development/desa/dpad/publication/world-economic-and-social-survey-2016-climate-change-resilience-an-opportunity-for-reducing-inequalities/

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