Miner coming out of cave


In recent years, the Government of Colombia has been working to develop a holistic national approach to fostering a just transition of the workforce. This has included partnerships with organizations partners like the International Labour Organization (ILO) and United Nations Development Program, and incorporating just transitions into national planning documents including the National Development Plan (2018–2022), Colombia’s Low Carbon Development Strategy, and their 2020 2020 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). The Ministry of Labor has a goal of developing a national just transition strategy by 2023.


The debate on a just transition in Colombia’s energy sector has gained traction in recent years, driven in part by three factors: the risk of stranded assets as Colombia’s trade partners shift away from coal, social conflicts in territories with large energy or mining projects and the use of revenues from the mining industry to fund the country’s peace process. In December 2020, Colombia also announced a new climate target to reduce GHG emissions by 51% by 2030 from a projected baseline.

An important factor in Colombia’s energy transition is the prominent role that coal exports, primarily to European countries, play in the country’s economy. In 2016, steam coal accounted for 14% of exports (second only to crude petroleum, at 26%). As European countries and companies enact their own energy transition measures, Colombia’s coal export strategy and the jobs of 30,000 workers could be imperiled. Colombia’s coal exports have shown significant volatility in the past ten years, and are trending downward.

After the Colombian government and FARC signed a peace agreement in 2016, a Presidential Decree in May 2017 focused on implementing the Rural Electrification Plan within the framework of the agreement, underscoring the role of rural development in building peace and stability. It highlighted the opportunity to improve energy access in ways that respond to the needs of rural communities, and particularly through non-conventional energy sources. However, Colombia’s extractive industries are expected to finance the peace process, which may reinforce existing incentive structures that favor development of large-scale coal mining.

Policies, Actions and Results

In November 2019, the Government of Colombia and the International Labour Organization (ILO) signed a Pledge for Green Jobs and Just Transition. This pledge seeks to prepare the country’s workforce and private sector for the challenges of green growth, with a focus on formalization, increased productivity and workforce capacity-building. The pledge also aims to strengthen tripartite dialogue (among the government, employers and workers) and stakeholder engagement to shape public policies for the transition to a green economy.

The country’s most recent National Development Plan (2018–2022) aims to increase coal production by 98 million metric tons and identifies the energy sector, including coal mining, as a principal driver of rural development. However, it also includes a Decent Work pillar that aims to increase the coverage of social protection schemes and promote greater social dialogue. Though the pillar is not specific to the energy and extractives sector, it could support just transition measures and the creation of decent, green jobs.

In addition, the National Development Plan’s cross-cutting theme on Energy and Mining Resources makes a commitment to establish new models of dialogue between the government and the regions, though it does not specify what issues will be addressed. One of the strategies listed under the theme is to “strengthen” coal mine closures to ensure the creation of new alternatives. Another strategy is to expand the share of bioenergy in the energy mix.

More recently, as part of the development Colombia’s forthcoming Long-Term Strategy (LTS) under the Paris Agreement, Colombia’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development and the United Nations Development Program hired the firm Athesis-Lavola in 2020 to analyze just transition issues in Colombia’s energy, transportation and agriculture sectors. This study informed the development of the LTS’ just transition strategies, which is one of nine main guidelines (“long-term bets”). This was part of a larger program, “Capacity Building for NDC,” financed by the NDC Support Program. In addition, Colombia’s 2020 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement includes a transversal element highlighting the importance of a just transition, with a 2023 target for the Ministry of Labor to formulate a national strategy for a just transition of the workforce.

While there is not yet a national just transition strategy articulated in Colombia, and phase-out of coal mining and use is not yet under consideration, these national policies and plans lay the foundations for a just transition.


  • Setting the foundation for inclusive reforms: Efforts to implement the Pledge for Green Jobs and Just Transition, combined with objectives in the National Development Plan to promote social dialogue and expand social protections, can help ensure that reforms are undertaken through an inclusive process that engages all relevant stakeholders, including labor groups and Indigenous communities.
  • Inclusion of just transition across national policies: Colombia included considerations related to just transitions and decent work in several multi-sectoral policy instruments, including its National Development Plan, Long-Term Strategy, and NDC, which can help coordinate sectoral activities related to a just transition.

Challenges and Gaps

  • Continued fossil fuel production: In 2013, the fossil fuel industry contributed one-third of national revenues. The sector benefits from multiple subsidies, such as tax deductions and exemptions, and the National Development Plan (2018–2022) aims to increase coal production by 98 million metric tons. Additionally, the need to fund the peace process, coupled with the opportunity to expand extractive exploration in previous conflict areas, may further promote the development of large-scale coal mining and other fossil fuel-intensive activities.  
  • Guaranteeing fair stakeholder consultation processes: The ILO Guidelines for a Just Transition call for the participation of social partners at all possible stages and levels of the policy process. Currently, however, labor unions face a challenging environment in Colombia, including the murder of 70 trade unionists between 2016 and 2018. Concerns over human rights violations and lack of consultation regarding certain large-scale hydropower projects highlight the importance of stakeholder participation across all policy areas, especially those with potential for significant regional impacts.

Further Reading