Colombia, a country that is very vulnerable to climate change, has played a positive role in international climate negotiations. Paradoxically, Colombia is also the sixth largest coal exporter globally, and its government has adopted policies to further increase the country’s production of coal and other fossil fuels.

This article explores to what extent the national government reproduces a powerful paradigm – namely, that fossil fuel extraction is necessary for development – and how this resonates at the subnational level.

The authors find that the government’s narrative has evolved to accommodate Colombia’s changing national circumstances and public criticism. Though counternarratives exist, they have struggled to propose credible nationwide alternatives to extractive-based development, thus reinforcing the belief that extraction-based development is unavoidable. The authors describe how government narratives constitute an obstacle to both supply-side policies to restrict fossil fuel development and to transitional assistance policies to adjust to shifts in the global coal market.

This article is part of the forthcoming special issue on Supply-side fossil fuel policies.