Local commitment to climate protection and biodiversity

The mayor of Tópaga, Henry Barrera.

The mayor of Tópaga, Henry Barrera, said “I Make the Change” (#YoHagoElCambio) in the National Congress of Municipalities in Colombia. Photo: GIZ / Marcela Rodríguez Salguero

According to the study Analysis of vulnerability and risk by Climate Change for the municipalities of Colombia, published in 2017, 100% of the local governments have some risk from climate change and, consequently, for biodiversity loss in Colombia.

Based on the interpretation of the study, there is an opportunity for municipalities to incorporate into their development plans specific actions related with mitigation and adaptation and conservation of biodiversity through conservation areas.

Leading the way with a good example - the municipality of Tópaga

The municipality of Tópaga has already become involved and has started to face the consequences of climate change. Tópaga is a typical Colombian town, located in the department of Boyacá in north-eastern Colombia. It has an extension of 37 square kilometres, a population of 4,000 inhabitants and its main economic activity is the exploitation of coal.

Henry Barrera is the current mayor of Tópaga, born 40 years ago in that city as “a peasant, the son of miners, who has made his living from the sweat of his brow" as he defines himself. He carries over 15 years working in the public sector and his work with communities has been his professional vocation since an early age. “Since early childhood, I took care of the environment. This is the most important thing as we are passing through this world, and we should think what we’re going to leave to our children. The climate change concerns to us all. We can transform the planet and act to make a difference”, explains Barrera. Even as mayor he has retained this strong belief and is working to put it into practice.

Climate change and biodiversity in the focus of local politics

In the Integral Plan for the Management of Territorial Climate Change in Tópaga (in Spanish), the climate change is a transversal aspect that involves various lines of action of the National Climate Change Policy (in Spanish) of Colombia. The ecosystem management and conservation are among the measures included by the national policy in the Integral Plan of Tópaga. The focus of those measures in the municipality is on the adaptation and implementation of local models for ecosystem services payment for, which will allow local communities to be agents for the conservation of vulnerable ecosystems to climate change.

The Integral Plan was introduced by the previous local administration in 2018. In that same year, the city was linked to the network of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability and to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.

“Tópaga depends on a 90% of mining. We want to promote a sustainable use of natural resources and new actions that consider the coal as finite resource and open up new possibilities for competitive development according to the climatic dynamics that affect our productivity”, affirms the mayor. Barrera adds: “I am making this Integral Plan visible by 2050. The transformations are achieved in the long term. So, if we dream about it with the new generations, it will be possible to make it real in the future. I imagine a very strengthened Tópaga with new solutions for the population, and with sustainable activities from mining, agriculture and trade sectors”.

#YoHagoElCambio - I Make the Change for climate and biodiversity

This same experience was exposed by Henry Barrera to the Colombian mayors who participated in the National Congress of Municipalities (in Spanish) in the city of Cartagena in February 2020. The mayor explained the experience and the benefits generated by putting focus on climate protection and biodiversity in the Integral Plan. The congress has been organized by the Colombian Federation of Municipalities (Fedemunicipios).

Barrera’s speech was conducted as part of a national campaign entitled #YoHagoElCambio (“I Make the Change”) for the climate and the biodiversity, led by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (Minambiente) of Colombia and the National Planning Department (DNP) in cooperation with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in Colombia. The national campaign (in Spanish) encouraged that 154 new mayors from the South American country pledged to include in their development plans the adaptation and mitigation and the conservation of biodiversity actions according to the dynamics of their territories.

During the Congress, the Minambiente, the DNP and the GIZ through the program NDC support for Colombia and the regional project Local Protected Areas were able to establish a direct contact with Colombian mayors. They provide them with tools that will help them to include these issues in their development plans, and so to grant technical and financial resource and support from the national government.

For GIZ, contributing to the articulation of local and national governments through the incorporation of goals related to climate action and the conservation of biodiversity is part of its supporting role in Colombia. It contributes for building tools that respond to national and international goals. Thus, actions in the territorial area can be implemented successfully, contributing to the proposed objectives in terms of reducing greenhouse gases emissions, climate change adaptation and for the conservation of biodiversity through conservation areas.