Colombia must do more on environment for sustainable economic growth, says OECD


10/04/2014 - Colombia’s rich natural heritage as one of the world’s most bio-diverse countries is coming under increasing pressure from extractive industries, livestock grazing, urbanisation and car use, according to a new OECD report.


The OECD’s first Environmental Performance Review of Colombia – which will feed into talks on Colombia’s accession to the OECD – stresses the need to do more to steer economic development in an environmentally sustainable and socially equitable direction.


“Colombia is growing fast as an economy and it needs to take action now to protect what are some of the world’s richest forests and ecosystems” said the OECD’s Environment Director Simon Upton. “Bringing environmental policies in line with the best international practices will be a key step towards bringing Colombia into the OECD.”


Reliance on hydropower has kept carbon dioxide emissions low in Colombia, but a steady rise in the number of cars in use in the years ahead as households grow wealthier will mean higher emissions and more air pollution, the review warns.



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Colombia’s strong economic growth in recent years has been driven in part by extraction of oil, metals, minerals and coal for export. The downside of this is that these extractive industries are polluting soil and water, harming sensitive ecosystems and damaging human health. The review urges Colombia to improve its management of the environmental impacts of mining.


The floods and landslides related to the 2010-11 La Niña event, which affected 3 million people and reduced GDP by 2%, underlined Colombia’s vulnerability to climatic changes and prompted efforts to better integrate environmental considerations into economic plans. Yet more could be done to improve coherence between economic and environmental policies. The review recommends routine environmental assessments of major projects.


Colombia is highly exposed to extreme weather events and slash-and-burn agriculture, artificial drainage of wetlands, changes of natural river courses and the building of villages and towns in areas at risk of floods or landslides will only increase the risks.


Nearly 55% of Colombia is covered by forest, well above the OECD average of 30%, and deforestation – mainly through conversion to pasture – is having a major impact on the country’s Amazonian, Caribbean and Andean regions. The deforestation rate recently declined, but 30% to 50% of natural ecosystems have already been altered in some way.


A third of Colombia’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, mainly methane generated by livestock but also nitrous oxide emissions from fertilisers. The review calls for the removal of incentives that encourage extensive cattle rearing and for the taxation of agro-chemicals.


It also recommends making government ministries more accountable for any impact their policies have on the environment, greater use of green taxes and the phasing out of environmentally harmful subsidies and tax exemptions.


For further information, or to request a copy of the report or interviews with the authors, journalists should contact Catherine Bremer (+33 1 45 24 97 00) in the OECD’s Media Division. 


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