Colombia is the second most bio-diverse nation on our planet. Despite its relatively small size, it has a wide range of environments, including snow-capped Andean mountains, lush Amazonian jungle, coffee plantations, desert and coral reef. Colombia is accessed by both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, and provides an important gateway between the Americas. Colombia also suffers the most natural disasters, most notably flooding, due to climate change of all Latin American countries, according to the United Nations Development Programme. Colombia bears a heavy burden considering it emits very little carbon as compared to other countries.
Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá, scored very well on a recent study of large Latin American countries and their environmental practices, performance and policies. It ranked above average on all but two categories out of eight including transportation, building and land use, and water. Colombia is considerably progressive for a developing nation. From its weekly half-day Ciclovia, to the extensive natural-gas powered Transmilenio rapid bus system that has been built only within the last 10 years and replaced thousands of buses run on carbon-intensive fuels.
I spent this past weekend in the country’s second largest city Medellin and was so impressed by the transit system. Medellin Metro has incorporated the first cable-propelled system in the world, called Metrocable, aimed at reaching the underdevelopment barrios, previously unreachable by public transit because they are situated high up the hills surrounding the city. The city prevented 180,000 tons of carbon emissions last year, nearly 1% of the country’s total emissions, because of its very efficient and extensive metro system, not to mention the social benefits associated with better connectivity and access.
I expected to encounter resistance to the “greening” of Colombia’s built environment, when I decided to take the summer internship opportunity with the Colombia Green Building Council. Considering the country’s abundance of pressing problems including poverty, crime and corruption, I had figured that environmental issues would not be top of mind, but was happily surprised to find that that is not the case. I have learned that regardless of a country’s (or person’s for that matter) income, reputation, crooked politicians, drug problems and history, it is still very capable of achieving great things and paving the way for other, more developed, and privileged countries. It is a perfect example of the age-old idiom: “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. Colombia has proven this true. While it still struggles to get a handle on the drug problems, Colombia has made significant advances to curb the violence that it had been synonymous with in the past and improve the standard of living for its residents.
With many other green (and social) initiatives underway, including low-income sustainable housing, methane capture projects, and extensive environmental education for children, we will hear more about the innovative and inspiring country of Colombia, as it manages to create new opportunities amidst great challenges. Given its conscientious, driven and passionate people, Colombia is sure to remain the innovative environmental leader in Latin America for years to come.
For more information about green initiatives in Latin American cities, as well as cities around the world including Toronto, see the green city studies conducted by Siemens at: http://www.siemens.com/entry/cc/en/greencityindex.htm