Colombia Launches National Roadmap for Net Zero Carbon Buildings
Colombia’s goal of reaching net zero in all buildings by 2050 is an important step closer to being realized. Photo by Levi Ari Pronk/Unsplash

Decarbonizing the buildings sector is essential to cutting global greenhouse gas emissions. In Colombia, buildings account for 7% of national emissions – smaller than in many countries in part because of the country’s large agriculture, forestry and land use emissions – but it’s taken a big step toward decarbonizing the sector with a new roadmap that bridges national targets with local action.

Colombia’s National Roadmap for Net Zero Carbon Buildings, launched in June 2022 by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, aims to achieve net zero in all new buildings by 2030 and all buildings by 2050. Developed in partnership with WRI’s Zero Carbon Building Accelerator, the roadmap provides a framework for how the country can decarbonize the built environment by setting out clear goals, defining actions and identifying the actors responsible for implementation. To achieve sectoral transformation, short-, medium- and long-term actions have been identified across the value chain of the buildings and construction sector – including urban planning, materials, transportation and distribution, design, labeling, certification, water and energy use, and waste management.

Plotting the Course

The roadmap assesses the current status of the buildings sector and evaluates potential social and environmental impacts of net zero buildings nationally. To reach the ambitious goal of decarbonizing the built environment, the roadmap breaks down 67 goals and 175 transformative actions across six areas: Corporate Practices, Materials, Urban Planning, New Buildings, Existing Buildings and Informal Settlements.

Colombia is distinct in that it includes the informal construction sector alongside the formal in its net zero planning. Nationally, unlicensed buildings account for 19-29% of the building stock and as high as 55-70% in some cities. This unlicensed or informal sector presents a significant challenge to decarbonizing the built environment. “Formalizing” it could reduce construction and demolition waste, improve building materials, and improve the quality of life and health of low-income families. But doing so affordably and justly, without displacing residents, has been difficult for many cities.

The roadmap includes recommendations for ensuring that improving existing homes and buildings takes a participatory, inclusive approach with communities. It also highlights the importance of financial education and programs for communities to make access to formal housing more viable – for example, alternative leasing and mortgage schemes for those without traditional access to financing.

The country has developed regulations and incentives for energy efficiency, clean energy and grid decarbonization. However, there are still regulatory short-falls and barriers, and access to highly efficient building technologies is still lacking. The roadmap sets out to address these challenges by linking specific political, financial, technological and capacity building transformative actions in each of the six action areas to short-, medium- and long-term goals and identifying actors responsible for implementation. The ultimate aim is to achieve the mainstreaming of zero carbon buildings nationally.

The roadmap also includes chapters on the role of financing and how social and gender equity are integrated into transformative actions – for example, utilizing gender-inclusive participatory approaches in urban planning, and diminishing national energy poverty rates with clean energy connectivity for buildings.

Structure of the roadmap. Source: Colombia Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Actions are connected to project enablers (policy, technology, capacity development and finance) and linked to the key actors across the value chain and building lifecycle for implementation of those actions.

Source: Colombia Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development

The country’s biggest barrier may be existing buildings, including the informal sector. Currently there are no regulations or incentives promoting energy efficiency in existing buildings and retrofits. Transformative actions in the roadmap identify regulatory instruments and incentives to build capacity and provide the necessary technology for implementing retrofits for net zero buildings. This includes electrification of space heating and cooling, energy efficient appliances, and onsite clean energy generation.

Multi-Level Action

Colombia’s net zero buildings roadmap marks the culmination of a year’s worth of work by national and local government, the private sector and civil society as a part of WRI’s Zero Carbon Building Accelerator. Multi-level action like this is key to delivering on Colombia’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and long-term climate vision in all sectors, but especially buildings, where actions cross between housing, energy,  national and city planning, for example.

Nine working groups with nearly 400 stakeholders from different sectors across the value chain have participated in the development of the roadmap. Input from these groups informed the baseline assessment of the buildings sector in Colombia, analyzed the challenges and barriers to implementing zero carbon buildings, and identified the transformative actions needed to decarbonize buildings nationally.

Consejo Colombiano de Construcción Sostenible (“Colombia Green Building Council” or CCCS) led the on-the-ground engagement and facilitation of the roadmap project, building off previous networks and relationships forged during its work with the Building Efficiency Accelerator. Though the roadmap was spearheaded by Colombia’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, an advisory committee of representatives from the Ministry of Housing, National Planning Department, City Planning Department of Bogotá, City Planning Department of Cali, CAMACOL – Colombian Construction Chamber, and CCCS served as the governing body of the project, promoting integration across national ministries and at multiple levels of government.

Source: Colombia Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Toward Carbon Neutrality

Colombia’s NDCs call for a 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The national roadmap for buildings is aligned with other implementation and monitoring plans for Colombia’s NDCs, and these new building decarbonization goals will support the country in achieving its NDCs.

Beyond the shorter time frame of the NDCs, Colombia’s Long-Term Climate Strategy (E2050), launched at COP26, calls for a carbon-neutral Colombia by 2050 through resilient development and a circular economy. As the Net Zero Buildings Roadmap considers the whole building lifecycle and provides short-, medium- and long-term goals for achieving carbon neutrality, it can be a model for other sectoral plans to reach these goals and a first step toward implementing the country’s circular economy vision.

With this new roadmap, Colombia’s national and local governments, private sector and civil society have recognized the necessity and impact of transforming the buildings and construction sector in achieving its NDC and E2050 goals.

When presenting the roadmap, Deputy Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development Nicolás Galarza Sánchez emphasized this point, saying that Colombia must reduce 174 million tons of emissions by 2030 to achieve its NDCs and the implementation of these transformative actions could reduce buildings sector emissions 53% by 2030. “This roadmap proves not only our commitment but also our ambition and vision for a carbon-neutral country,” he said.

Colombia’s goal of reaching net zero in all buildings by 2050 is an important step closer to being realized. The Zero Carbon Building Accelerator will continue working with Colombia by creating local action plans in Bogotá and Cali for implementation of the roadmap at the municipal level as well as policy updates for building codes nationally.

Kayla Rakes is the Engagement Coordinator for the Buildings Initiative at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

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