So far, public policy and citizen behavior in combating COVID-19 in Colombia have worked well and generated results. Even if the figures are imprecise, let’s look at the most telling: the ratio of deaths per capita. In the United Kingdom, one out of every 1,920 inhabitants has died. In Switzerland, one out of every 2,768; in the United States, one out of every 3,655; in Ecuador, one out of every 6,244; in Brazil, one out of every 12,996; and in Colombia, one out of every 86,498. The Colombian results reflect good governance.
But the United States carries weight in Colombian political decisions and this generates major risks. Not only in terms of handling the pandemic and the speed of reopening the economy, but also in terms of environmental damage. The Trump administration is moving forward with the deregulation promised during his campaign, and many directives are being increasingly relaxed or abolished. Now, there is an additional argument: the need to accelerate economic recovery post-COVID-19. To revive the automotive sector, Barack Obama’s demands to reduce emissions are being reversed. This is creating short-term relief for auto manufacturing plants by eliminating requirements that obligate them to invest in the development and marketing of hybrid, electric and low pollution vehicles.
The automotive industry isn’t the only sector affected. Research by Harvard Law School and Columbia University generated a graph of 64 environmental rollbacks carried out by Trump and 34 others currently in progress (The New York Times, May 6, 2020). Trump says the regulations are unnecessary and costly. He is deregulating aspects related to climate and environmental policies, especially in the fossil fuel industry. Regulations are weakening on pollutants from coal-fired energy generation, the dumping of mining waste into water sources, petroleum and gas licensing, and the reduction of wilderness areas, among other areas.
Most of the rollbacks have been processed by the Environmental Protection Agency, which repealed and replaced many of the regulations on emissions and environmental protection. According to health and climate experts, regulatory changes are causing more contamination-related illnesses and accelerating climate change.
In Colombia, following Trump’s lead, the pressure to weaken environmental institutions and relax regulations has arrived swiftly. A group of business owners from the Hernán Echavarría Olózaga Institute of Political Science made an attempt in a letter sent to President Duque (April 5, 2020). While arguing for the need to improve productivity in strategic sectors to accelerate economic recovery, they expressed the benefits of weakening procedures relating to prior consultation, environmental licenses and agricultural business development zones. The initiative was curbed by another letter sent to President Duque with thousands of signatures, including those of some business owners (April 14, 2020). The debate continues. While some want to protect the environment and steer the economy toward a sustainable path, others want to ensure a profit in the short term.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development* has already identified the need to strengthen environmental institutions with better response readiness and the ability to enforce regulations (2014). We require greater institutional capability, awareness and civic management in order to achieve sustainable development. COVID-19 isn’t going to dismantle environmental regulation. Let’s align more with Europe, which, through its Green Deal, seeks to continue going green during post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
Editor’s Note: *The OECD is an intergovernmental economic organization and an official U.N. observer.
About this publication