If global warming is to be limited to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, research suggests a third of the world’s oil reserves, half of its gas reserves and more than 80% of its coal reserves should remain unused from 2010 to 2050.
Achieving that objective requires grappling with key equity questions about who gets to extract the remaining fossil fuels, and for whose benefit. It also requires understanding the political economy of a transition away from fossil fuels extraction: who wins, who loses, and what factors can enable or hinder such a transition.
In Colombia, coal has been a pillar of the national economic development strategy, together with the rest of the mining and energy sectors. Coal production increased from 38 million tonnes (Mt) in 2000 to almost 89 Mt in 2015. In 2015, the coal sector represented about 1.3% of Colombia’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 12% of exports.
However, the future prospects for Colombia’s coal sector are uncertain. About 83% of Colombian coal is sold on international markets. A combination of reduced global demand and oversupply has reduced prices, and a recent study predicted that large shares of Colombia’s traditional export markets would vanish in the next few years as a result of climate policy, while increasing competition would keep coal prices low.
There is growing criticism and opposition to large-scale coal mining in Colombia for environmental and socio-economic reasons, but there are also strong entrenched interests that support it. We explore how the political strategies of the major coal mining companies and their backers in the national government have evolved to address new challenges and, in that context, we consider the options for groups seeking change.
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