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Colombia Prepares Law to Prohibit New Contracts in Coal Exploration


Colombia coal exploration
Colombia prepares law to prohibit new contracts in coal exploration – Credit: Tanenhaus / CC BY 2.0

Colombia is preparing a law to prohibit new coal exploration contracts. The government announced the creation of a mining reform which, among its proposals, would disallow new contracts. Colombia is the main producer of this highly polluting mineral in South America, and with this law it would lose one of its most important export revenues.

Since he became president, Gustavo Petro has been emphasizing the need to decarbonize the country. In the 18 months of his mandate, the head of state has explained in many international forums Colombia’s willingness to renounce new oil and coal exploration and move towards renewable energies.

This government proposal has raised all kinds of criticism among political opponents and economists alike. For the country, renouncing export revenues from these resources is a major challenge in an economy that is still highly dependent on them.

Towards decarbonization

The text is, at the moment, a bill that moves towards the announced “decarbonization objectives” and that has not yet been submitted to Congress. It will be the legislative branch which, after discussion and amendment proposals, will approve or veto the final law.

The step taken by Colombia at the COP28 in Dubai last November, where it announced that it was joining the countries that want to put an end to the use of fossil fuels, marks the conception of the current bill.

However, the current draft goes a little further, as it also includes a proposal that would allow the government to expropriate mining assets in certain circumstances. The assets would be made to “contribute to the reindustrialization of the country, energy transition, agricultural development and public infrastructure” and “generate…. skilled and unskilled jobs in decent conditions,” the bill states.

Future between doubts and hope

The government’s intention has been questioned by the sectors that depend economically on coal mining. For example, in the department of La Guajira, where the El Cerrejon mine is located, 11,000 jobs are at risk. This is an impoverished department, plagued by a historic drought and where job opportunities have always been scarce.

For this reason, workers and politicians in the region have expressed their displeasure and concern about the project being promoted by the Ministry of Mines and Energy. Although La Guajira would be one of the most important territories in terms of the implementation of renewable energies, the renunciation of new coal exploration contracts has alarmed the families that depend on this work.

New energy transition projects foresee that this region will be the mainstay in the installation of social and wind energy. According to Colombian government studies, the department has a feasibility of generating about 15,000 MW of energy with wind systems.

Rethinking the energy model

The El Niño phenomenon, especially acute this year, has highlighted the need for Colombia to move towards a plurality of energy sources. Today, the country still relies 70% on hydroelectric plants to generate electricity. Droughts like that of this year threaten to be repeated in a future of climate change, making it necessary to rethink the energy model.

However, what worries the inhabitants of La Guajira is the early renunciation of coal revenues without first ensuring a short-term transition to renewable energies.

This will be the main challenge for the government, which from the very first day has been flagging a resolute attitude towards the progressive abandonment of fossil fuels.

Colombia coal exploration
Colombian government bets on renewable energies – Credit: Ministry of Mines and Energy

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