High court orders Colombian government to adopt concrete actions for climate crisis mitigation and adaptation
Photo: Alejandro Arango.
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23 October 2023
After evidencing that the Ministry of Environment failed to comply with climate obligations contained in the national legislation, the State Council ordered the entity to take concrete measures to meet these commitments within one year. This is the final decision in the litigation filed by various stakeholders demanding the State to include the climate impact of the coal sector in its climate crisis management.
The State Council ordered the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development to adopt, within one year, specific measures to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis in order to fulfill part of the country's climate commitments. With this ruling, the High Court resolved a compliance action filed on May of this year by a coalition of civil society organizations, think tanks and universities to require the State to include the impacts of the coal production chain in the climate policy.
In the decision, the State Council acknowledges the Ministry's failure to comply with the norms to include climate impacts in projects with environmental management and control instruments, the lack of regulations regarding emissions from the coal sector, and the absence of a report and evaluation of the impact of the implementation of nature-based solutions programs and projects.
Although the decision could have been more ambitious by also recognizing other alleged non-compliances that were proved in the litigation, the high court issued four fundamental orders to be complied by the Ministry of Environment:
Inclusion of climate change adaptation and mitigation considerations in the environmental management and control instruments of projects, emphasizing the quantification of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the contributions of environmental compensation measures to the Nationally Determined Contributions, submitted by the State to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Adopt a national guideline for formulating, developing, monitoring, reporting and evaluating the impact of implementing nature-based solutions programs and projects. This must include climate change management, integration with an ecosystem approach, contributions to the economy, benefits to biodiversity and human communities.
Determining the methodologies for calculating direct and indirect emissions that must be reported, the methods, tools, processes and periodicity of reporting on GHG emissions, and the information and documentation required for GHG inventories.
Regulation of the conditions for the verification, certification and registration of GHG emissions, emission reductions and removals as well as determination of the follow-up and control procedures foreseen.
Based on the result, this litigation is the first successful case of strategic and climate litigation in the continent, as it was possible to prove that the State failed to comply to specific climate commitments, and has succeeded to order to one of the competent authorities to adopt concrete actions for appropriate climate management. The strategy employed and the precedent achieved can well be replicated in other countries in the region.
The enforcement action was filed with the Administrative Court of Cundinamarca by the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense, the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective, Censat Agua Viva, Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular, POLEN Transiciones Justas, Universidad de Magdalena and researcher Paola Yanguas.
In July, the court issued the first-instance ruling in this case. In it, it issued eight orders requiring not only the Ministry of Environment—but also the Ministry of Mines and Energy—to comply with Law 1931 of 2018 and Law 2165 of 2021, which set out the minimum actions that Colombia must take to meet its climate commitments at international level.
This litigation showed that over the last six years, the government has omitted the obligations contained in these laws, particularly in relation to the climate impact caused by the coal sector.
The case was subsequently referred to the State Council, whose final decision confirmed part of the ruling of the Administrative Court of Cundinamarca.
As the largest coal exporter in Latin America, Colombia is obliged to include in its climate commitments the true extent of the impact of the coal sector. This was demanded by the communities of La Guajira, which have been directly affected for decades.
Although these communities did not sign the litigation, they sponsored it and accompanied its presentation with traditional dance and music.