New President-Elect in Oil-rich Columbia Pledges to Phase Out Fossil Fuels

New President-Elect in Oil-rich Columbia Pledges to Phase Out Fossil Fuels - Gustavo Petro

Columbia’s president-elect Gustavo Petro has bold plans for phasing out fossil fuels, even though oil makes up 40% of the nation’s exports and 12% of its government’s income. During his campaign, Petro promised to stop issuing new permits for oil exploration and transform Ecopetrol, the nation’s largest fossil fuel company, from a producer of oil and gas into one of renewable energy. Columbia already produces 70% of its energy from hydropower, so renewables, rather than gas, could become a major national export.

Some critics call the initiative “economic suicide,” but the move towards renewables is financially sound in the long term. A recent study found that assets valued at $1.4 trillion could become stranded in the future, given their associated climate risks. Though phasing out fossil fuels remains politically controversial in Columbia, Petro’s climate plans put the country ahead of the pack when it comes to limiting global warming.

DW: Leftist Gustavo Petro wins Colombia's presidential election, June 20, 2022.

The Hill: Colombia Elects FIRST LEFTIST President Gustavo Petro. US Relations To Change AGGRESSIVELY, June 20, 2022.

Why This Matters

If enacted, Petro’s clean energy agenda would be the most ambitious in the world: Columbia would be the largest fossil fuel producer to ban new drilling projects. Unfortunately, this is only one small piece of a much larger puzzle. While almost all of the world’s top 33 oil producers pledged to cap global warming, none have set timelines to phase out the use of fossil fuels. Rich countries must stop producing oil and gas by 2034 to have even a fifty-fifty chance of keeping warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius. Only a few countries have banned oil exploration; of those, Belize is the only one where oil contributed more than 1% of GDP. Meanwhile, the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies have begun 195 new oil and gas projects, each of which could emit up to 1 billion tons of carbon in its lifetime. Atmospheric carbon levels are already at an all-time high, breaking a new record in May this year at 421 parts per million of carbon, the highest level seen in 4 million years.

Given the dire levels of carbon in the atmosphere, many climate experts have lauded Petro for taking a huge step in the right direction. “This would be absolutely head and shoulders above what other countries are doing,” says Kevin Anderson, a scientist at Manchester University’s Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research.

WFLA News Channel 8: Carbon Dioxide Levels hit new record high causing climate change, May 25, 2022.

CBS: Huge carbon emissions cuts needed, UN climate report finds, April 4, 2022.

Trending Towards Change

Though many countries have been slow to phase out fossil fuels, this could be changing with the rise of left-wing governments around the world. A “pink tide” is gaining traction in Latin America, where voters in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and Peru are leaning left. Even in Brazil, where conservative stalwart Jair Bolsonaro has held the Presidency since 2019, a left-wing groundswell could win Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva this year’s election. That outcome could have a massive impact on environmental policy, especially around the Amazon, where right-wing governments have incurred record levels of deforestation.

Global Landscapes Forum: Amazon Deforestation | The Next Climate Tipping Point?, September 15, 2021.

Al Jazeera: Can a rise of leftist leaders bring real change to Latin America?, March 23, 2022.

It’s not just Latin America. Australia voted the progressive Labor party into power for the first time in a decade, largely due to its more ambitious climate agenda. The Labor party has vowed to get the nation to net zero by 2050 and aims to cut emissions by 43% by 2030 while also agreeing to install solar banks and batteries.

Democracy Now!: Greenslide: Climate Crisis Spurs Green-Labor Win in Australian Election Over Pro-Coal, Right-Wing PM, May 23, 2022.

Democracy Now!: Gustavo Petro Promised a "New Progressivism." Now He's Set to Be Colombia's First Leftist President, June 21, 2022.