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Why Colombia and why now?

Why Colombia and why now?

By Lucy Bruzzone, Programme Manager, Executive Education

1 July 2016


Last week saw a historic moment in Colombia’s history as the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas agreed a bilateral ceasefire. This marks the last major step toward ending one of the world’s longest wars. Colombia now faces multiple challenges in consolidating its security, alleviating poverty and inequality, and transitioning to a low carbon, climate-resilient development pathway.

Managing the need for development within the peace process without further eroding Colombia’s natural capital is critical. Earlier this year the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) was privileged to develop Colombia’s first Sustainability Leadership Programme in conjunction with the Universidad de los Andes. The programme aimed to support and facilitate discussion around a shared vision for the country’s sustainable development.

Colombia is home to ecosystems of exceptional diversity whose services are of national and global importance. It is the world’s second most biodiverse nation and has an abundant water supply, which has enabled it to deliver low CO2 emissions from fuel consumption through widespread use of hydropower. Its natural environment holds immense value for the world as a whole.

However, years of violence have diminished the State’s ability to manage its natural resources, offer effective safeguarding of protected areas and to stop illegal mining. The rise of illicit crop production and deforestation has left large parts of the country vulnerable to exploitation. But peace also brings new challenges, for example increased access to certain regions enables further exploitation of the country’s mineral wealth and the expansion of agricultural frontiers. The country’s recent National Development Plan highlights this, stating that fast economic growth has generated benefits for society but, in turn, created challenges for the conservation, management and sustainable use of the Colombia's natural capital. 

Peace-building and sustainable development might be considered in step with one another. Research has shown that transparent sustainable natural resource management can improve peace-building measures. A stronger economy can also bring with it stability and the release of funds previously allocated to managing conflict. These funds can instead be used to support environmental protection and climate change mitigation. The point was emphasised by President Juan Manuel Santos during his speech at the United Nations COP21 climate talks in Paris. Colombian leaders now increasingly recognise the importance of strong international collaborations in supporting progress. Colombia has participated at the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and was one of the commissioning countries behind its New Climate Economy Report

Through its understanding of the value of its natural resources, Colombia is one of only eight nations to implement a global national natural capital accounting method WAVES (Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services) – and it recently included green growth as a core component of its new National Development Plan.                         

Another key challenge is the rapid global decline in energy prices, oil production and mining core components of the country’s economy and export market. Direct foreign investment therefore plays an increasingly important part in the country’s economic growth. The UK has been a key contributor, investing in the country’s mineral wealth and manufacturing, whilst also working in partnership with the country’s leaders to both support the peace process and help combat climate change. During a visit to Colombia in 2014, HRH The Prince of Wales discussed his flagship Sustainability Leadership Programme (delivered by CISL) with President Juan Manuel Santos, seeking to determine whether there might be an opportunity to launch a similar initiative in Colombia. This led to the creation of the Colombian Sustainability Leadership Programme, which aims to:

  • Foster effective collaboration by establishing a shared understanding of the context and opportunities for green, inclusive growth amongst key government and private sector leaders in Colombia
  • Facilitate a more consistent, collaborative and integrated decision-making in Colombia following the peace process
  • Build a network of leaders to facilitate inspiring and transformative action

The programme was first delivered to 27 delegates in Cartagena de Indias in February 2016. These delegates included presidents, general managers and international business leaders from the private and public sectors and NGOs. It was developed in collaboration with the Universidad de los Andes and with the support of the Colombian and UK Governments and key business networks from both Colombia and across the world. 

Every CISL programme is designed to create a space for reflection. This enabled participants of the Colombian Sustainability Leadership Programme to build the capacity for more effective collaborations and partnerships, essential in driving forward the innovation and systemic thinking required for sustainable development. The programme successfully took delegates on a journey that began with a look at the ‘big picture’ and current global trends and ended with an opportunity to review and debate implications for Colombia and beyond. 

Summing up his experience, one delegate commented: “It was a great opportunity to exchange thoughts on critical issues that are part of all the challenges that we as both a community and as individuals are facing.”

About the author

Lucy Bruzzone 100x100Lucy Bruzzone works on the design, development and delivery of our executive education programmes, which aim to help senior leaders understand the scale of change required to address key sustainability challenges.

Lucy is a core member of CISL’s China Team supporting the development of the Institute’s China strategy, and supported the development and delivery of the programme for Colombian senior business and government leaders to support integration of sustainable development into post-conflict planning.

Lucy joined CISL from Earthwatch, an international environmental charity, where she delivered their corporate engagement and sustainability programmes.

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Articles on the blog written by employees of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.