Colombia’s path to a circular economy

In 2019, Colombia was the first country in Latin America to adopt a National Circular Economy Strategy. The strategy prioritises action in six material/resource flows: packaging, building, industrial materials, mass consumption products, as well as natural resources and energy. In alignment with the Colombian Green Growth Policy and roadmap for 2030 and the 2018-2022 National Development Plan (NDP) “Pact for Colombia, Pact for Equity” (2018), it fosters a circular economy model based on durability, reusability, reparability and recyclability. Important factors in the circular shift include political direction (a clear vision), continuity in governance priorities, and commitment among stakeholders, signatories of a National Pact (and further Regional Pacts) for the Circular Economy

Moreover, the Government actively encouraged knowledge sharing as a means to enable the transition, including by conducting a training programme on the CE for over 60 government officials of various ministries and national offices. Taking stock of implementation progress has also helped build the case for the CE, with a relevant report published one year after the launch of the CEAP. Lastly, CE approaches have been integrated in relevant policy processes, including in Sustainable Tourism, Climate Change (Mitigation) – Industry Sector, Construction and Demolition Waste, and Water Reuse.

 

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The Roadmap – how Columbia is turning circular

CE benefits from the dedication of diverse stakeholders. The signature of
a National Pact and Regional Pacts for the Circular Economy endorsed the commitment of multiple actors. The Vice-President of the Republic, representatives of various Ministries, regional authorities and leading professional business associations were among the signatories underlining their commitment to drive the transition to a CE.

A working group on the CE under the Ministry of Environment and  sustainable Development (MADS) worked intensively on the refinement of an
initial version of the national CE Strategy. The document was discussed in more than 20 events, such as regional workshops and conferences, expanding knowledge on the CE, creating acceptance of the CE Strategy, and both refining and validating its provisions.

The level of circularity achieved by the country’s economy has been closely monitored by the National Administrative Department of Statistics, and  presented in the First Report on the Circular Economy (August 2020). A broader process, involving the set up of a circular economy information
roundtable with six sub-tables, each dedicated to a corresponding strategic priority and engaging relevant line actors, identified circular economy-related statistical information, and led to the creation of a Circular Economy Information System (SIEC in its Spanish acronym). Discussions in sub-tables, one for each priority line of action, identified important indicators and statistics for each line

 

Next to dissemination campaigns, and a CE training programme for government officials of various ministries and national offices, the integration of CE into the country’s competitiveness agenda facilitated the dissemination and appropriation of CE at the sub-national (regional) level. A sustainability committee was created within the framework of the National System of Competitiveness in Innovation where public and private actors discuss the progress. Through the regional competitiveness commissions, more than
21 regional CE roundtables have been created, which formulate
projects for the development of the strategy in the regions.

Recognizing the potential of the Tourism sector to facilitate the CE transition, Colombia launched the Sustainable Tourism Policy – Together with Nature, in December 2020. Further, the Revised Action Plan on Climate Change (Mitigation) – Industry Sector embraces circularity considerations, while both an upcoming Integrated Construction and Demolition Waste Management
legislation and a future legislation on water reuse are being revised to
include circular economy approaches.

How the EU helped kick off a CE process in Colombia

Key to EU’ partnership  on CE in Columbia was a Circular Economy Mission in 2017, involving more than 50 EU companies who shared experiences with the Colombian Administration and business community. Following up to the mission, the EU initiated a high-level policy dialogue on the CE addressing the Government and Ministries, and supported the development of the country’s CE Strategy and action plan. The EU Ambassador promoted the CE transition with multiple public appearances and by supporting the signing of the National Pact for the CE. In addition, a massive communication campaign was backed by the EU to further spread the CE concept in the country. Technical assistance was also offered via the SWITCH to Green Facility, for the implementation of the “National Circular Economy Strategy 2018-2022”, including specific priority strategies for composting and for the reuse of water in agriculture, the identification of appropriate economic instruments, and  the facilitation of access to finance.

Lesson Learnt from the transition process

Jointly commit to support the transition:

The EU reinforced the Colombian Government’s vision related
to the CE, recognizing the relevance of their strategic and priority actions.
The EU highlighted the potential that a shift towards the green and circular economy may have in generating both jobs and consensus.

Involve the highest national political level:

In Colombia, the buy-in and leadership of the President and the Vice-President in the CE transition process have facilitated EU ambition
to take and discuss the CE at the highest political level, and boost the transition process.

Establish multiple entry points:

The EUD established direct communication channels at 3 different levels, at high policy level, between the EU Ambassador and the President, the Vice-President and key Ministers, at strategic level, and at technical level with Directorates of key Ministries.

Design an inclusive process:

The inclusive process involved other Ministries beyond the environment, the private sector, academia, waste pickers’ organisations and thousands of citizens who have contributed ideas to transform the country towards a more productive economy that cares for its ecosystems.

Analyse the context conditions:

Political economy analysis enabled to identify champions / key players from different contexts who can spearhead the transition to a circular economy.