Making Green Recovery a Reality – Experiences from Colombia

Interview with Mónica Parra, advisor to the Economic Advisory Initiative

The Corona crisis has affected the world in unprecedented ways. Developing and emerging countries are particularly challenged to deal with the consequences of the pandemic. IKI is therefore supporting the "Economic Advisory Initiative", which was launched in 2020 by the NDC Partnership. Economic experts are being funded to advice governments in eight partner countries on how to shape a green recovery. One of the first advisors to start was Mónica Parra. From November 2020 to April 2021, she advised the National Planning Department in Colombia. In this interview, she shares her practical experiences from working under the "Economic Advisory Initiative". 

In June 2020, the Colombian government requested support through the Economic Advisory Initiative to advance the country’s green recovery. In this regard, what were priorities of the government and what are the most urgent issues in the country? 

In the course of the pandemic, the Colombian government has been facing an unexpected rise in unemployment and poverty rates, which requires urgent reactions. Amid this situation, the Government has considered three priorities regarding green recovery. 

First, linking infrastructure development to the recovery package for the post-COVID economy. This priority allows the greening of a traditionally brown economic sector that comprises infrastructure, construction, and energy, while simultaneously generating greater economic activity and jobs for the population that will benefit from a better life quality through the access to environmentally friendly products and services. 

Second, to boost the sustainable use of natural capital to create business and generate jobs. 

And third, to prioritize nature-based solutions as opportunities to solve social and economic problems in congruence with the environment, with special attention to ecosystem services such as water provision, clean air, and food security. 

Mónica Parra is a Senior Economist, focused on economic development and green growth, with substantial experience in public policies, macroeconomics, and international cooperation programs. Within the Economic Advisory Initiative, she advised the National Planning Department in Colombia. Photo: privat

With regard to the sustainable use of natural capital - what does that mean in concrete terms?

The Government aims to explore a new economic driver based on the country's biological wealth; its biodiversity provides competitive advantages for the generation of bio-based products and services with high benefit, thus generating jobs while conserving the environment. This recovery component includes among its measures the promotion of biological prospecting, knowledge and technologies, the creation of a research, development and innovation network for the use of biomass, the development of a national genomics programme, the creation of markets and commercial value chains, the promotion of biotechnology-based companies, and the adaptation of regulations for biotechnological products and services.

Which significance does Green Recovery have in the general recovery programme and efforts of the Colombian government?

In 2020, the Colombian government spent 43.9 trillion Colombian pesos, equivalent to US $ 12.5 billion, to attend the coronavirus emergency and reactivate the economy. Most of these resources have been allocated to social care amid the crisis, to support employment and payroll subsidies, and to care for the health emergency and the strengthening of the health system. This fiscal expenditure, for the most part has been quick-response, with no specific green criteria. 

The recently launched policy to recuperate the economy, known as CONPES 4023/2021, contemplates new investments to support the green recovery. 

You supported the National Planning Department for six months. What was your role during this time? What did your day-to-day work entail?

My role was acting as advisor to build green recovery strategies. First, I assisted the government with a range of tasks regarding the preparation and launch of the recovery policy, and second, I provided ideas on the way we should tackle the three priorities stated by the government, and shaped a Green Recovery Strategy for the medium and long term. I used my economic and environmental background to discuss the green recovery alternatives for the future with technical teams, along with editing and filtering technical inputs to assemble a general strategy. Based on my review of international green recovery activities and the analysis of the local context, several of my recommendations are incorporated in the Green Recovery Strategy, such as integrating Nature-based Solutions in planning and financial instruments, including the analysis of green hydrogen-related opportunities for the country, and suggesting greener standards in transport modes, among others. 

Economic Advisory Initiative

By financing economic advisors, IKI is providing support to its partner countries during the coronavirus crisis as they work to combine economic recovery goals with climate and biodiversity targets.

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NDC-Unterstützung Kolumbien

Mónica Parras activities under the Economic Advisory Initiative were supported by the IKI project NDC Policy Programme.

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View of Tatama National Park: In Colombia there are many different ecosystems and a great diversity of animals and plants. Photo: Shutterstock

"Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. We want to safeguard this rich natural capital by making nature-based solutions a core component of our national recovery strategies. In practice, we seek to advance green infrastructure projects and promote bioeconomy products."

Mónica Parra

Looking back at the past months, what were important milestones on Colombia’s path towards a green recovery? Which developments could you support as an Economic Advisor? 

The Government of Colombia undertook short-term rapid responses and is currently preparing medium and long-term focused policies as well. A specific national policy on sustainable recovery was approved and released in the first week of February 2021, and a complementary Green Recovery Strategy is being prepared. 

Several subjects have been highlighted to reactivate the economy and move towards sustainable growth. This includes planting around 180 million trees, promoting bio economy, incorporating disaster risk analysis in public investments in water access and water treatment projects – this is clearly climate change adaptation - and encouraging circular economy initiatives.

Did you face any specific challenges in your advisory work? 

The Colombian government is very open to assume green criteria in its planning and investments. However, one of the main challenges for me was the fact that economic policies, both general and sectoral, do not traditionally consider green criteria at the formulation stage. This has a lot to do with the way the government is organized: different authorities and teams manage environment, finance and key sectors to economic recovery. This structure does not contribute to build synergies between the economic and environmental goals achievement. 

Other challenges lie in the fiscal boundaries, scarcity of financial instruments for green recovery, limited institutional capacities and barriers related to the determination of citizens and firms to change the way they consume, produce, adopt clean technologies, and use natural capital.

What lessons learned could you pass on to your colleagues who just started their advisory work in different countries?

I would withdraw at least three main lessons from my advisory work. 

The first important lesson is to analyse the country's competitive advantages. Colombia, for example, ranks second in biodiversity worldwide, which gives the country a unique context to create sustainable development through green products, services and jobs related to the ecosystem’s conservation. Likewise, its geographical and physical attributes offer possibilities to keep a clean energy matrix, with hydropower, solar, wind, and biomass potential. 

The second lesson is involving civil society in policy design. The Colombian National Planning Department shares a preliminary non-approved version of every national public policy, in order to get feedback and proposals from organizations, firms and citizens. This helps to widen the view on the problems to be solved, and strengthens the policy making process.

Designing policy instruments for different time horizons is an additional lesson learned. Creating various policies according to their expected results and implementation timing, helps to organize the institutional framework, capacities, and available budget. For example, in Colombia we had rapid response decrees during 2020, while in 2021 we will release sustainable recovery policies adapted for the medium and long term.

Mónica Parra, thank you very much for the insights into your work under the Economic Advisory Initiative. 

It was a pleasure. I wish all advisors of the initiative much success in their work to achieve greener economies!