Jun 3, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Colombia aims high to curb fossil fuels, enhance biodiversity

Colombian Environment Minister Susana Muhamad speaking at a Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards on May 30.

Colombian Environment Minister Susana Muhamad speaks at the Vital Voices Global Partnership leadership awards May 30 in Washington. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Vital Voices Global Partnership

When diplomats descend on Calí, Colombia, in October to further negotiate the pact to protect global biodiversity, they will be pushed to raise the issue's profile and its myriad connections to climate change.

Why it matters: Colombian environment and sustainable development minister Susana Muhamad will chair the summit. She's looking to go big on protecting nature and reconceptualizing humanity's relationship with it.

Zoom in: "Nature is also trying to adapt to the new conditions of the planet," Muhamad tells Axios in an interview on the sidelines of an event hosted by the Vital Voices Partnership, where she was honored for her environmental activism.

  • "If nature is able to adapt in a way, and we are able to decarbonize to a point that the temperature gets stable, then nature will be there to be our ally, to capture the carbon, but also to be able to continue living in this planet," she adds.

Inside the room: Heading into the separate U.N. climate summit in Azerbaijan in November, Colombia's priorities revolve around mobilizing financing to help countries transition away from fossil fuels and better withstand climate change.

  • At COP28 in Dubai, Colombia — which under the current left-wing government is not signing new oil and gas leases — committed to the fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty.
  • Muhamad said the government is seeking to rally 20 to 30 other countries to sign on by COP29, and they are currently about a dozen countries short.

Between the lines: Muhamad is an internationally known environmentalist. Soon after taking office, she helped her country reduce the rate of deforestation in its rich, biodiverse forests, including portions of the Amazon.

  • According to statistics from Global Forest Watch, a forest loss monitoring service run in part by the nonprofit World Resources Institute, Colombia had a 49% decrease in primary forest loss last year.
  • WRI focuses on tracking primary forests in the tropics, because they are mature forests that store large amounts of carbon, are biodiversity havens and help influence regional climate conditions.
  • Muhamad said it is unlikely that Colombia will achieve the same level of forest loss improvements in 2024, due in part to activities by armed rebel groups in some of these areas.

The intrigue: Muhamad said she is frustrated by the slow pace of reform within international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

  • "Systemic reform" to boost countries' abilities to cut emissions and adapt to climate change will take place slowly, she said.
  • However, she pointed to progress in some areas, such as debt for nature swaps.
  • "There is more the creation of concrete instruments that start opening alternative pathways. I think at this level, we're moving faster, because it's a way of not addressing the deeper reform, but at least is a way to start working more proactively," she said.

The bottom line: The connection between climate action and work to preserve biodiversity "is not being seen [and] is not being prioritized at the same level. Because on the other side, if nature collapses, we all are going to collapse due to climate change."

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