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How Colombia’s long-term approach to infrastructure planning is propelling sustainable development

04 July 2023

Colombia’s shifting away from its ‘quick fix’ culture, which had affected the country’s ability to meet national infrastructure needs.

How Colombia’s long-term approach to infrastructure planning is propelling sustainable development
Colombia is prioritising its transport infrastructure to support connectivity and mobility. Image credit: Shutterstock

Outlining a long-term vision for infrastructure is crucial for achieving sustainable development.

This underpins the ICE’s Enabling Better Infrastructure programme, which aims to strengthen countries' ability to actively integrate sustainability outcomes across society, the environment, and the economy.

Doing so enables them enjoy a range of benefits, including greater public and investor confidence and investments in infrastructure that deliver on sustainability outcomes.

To demonstrate the value of having a long term vision in practice, we use EBI guidance to show how Colombia is overcoming its ‘quick fix’ approach to infrastructure planning.

Instead, the country has adopted a forward-looking agenda as outlined in its National Development Plan.

A need for improved infrastructure connectivity and mobility

Historically, a lack of capacity and resources has meant the Colombian government haven’t been able to keep up with their infrastructure needs.

Much of the available resources have been focused on improving services such as healthcare and education over developing other forms of infrastructure.

This has resulted in a poor quality of infrastructure in general, and an overreliance on fossil fuels due to a lack of renewable energy sources.

Furthermore, the Andes mountains that run through Colombia have cut off a number of small towns and villages from its main cities. This means parts of the country lack access to basic necessities, such as clean water.

Infrastructure connectivity is therefore a pressing concern. But there’s also a need for greener infrastructure service options, such as renewable energy infrastructure, to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Efforts have been made by the government to strengthen infrastructure.

In 2012, the 4G programme was developed, which aimed to connect the entire country, making mobility easier.

Despite this, significant improvements to infrastructure quality has yet to be achieved.

History of ‘quick fix’ solutions

Colombia’s ‘quick fix’ culture to infrastructure planning has slowed progress toward sustainable development.

Politicians often prioritise short-term solutions that serve political agendas over supporting long-term infrastructure investments.

This has resulted in projects that lack longevity.

This is demonstrated by the planning of the Transmilenio and the Sistema Integrado de Transporte Público (SITP) (bus rapid transit (BRT) system) from 2001 to 2015.

Over the course of the megaproject, ‘political agreements constantly influenced the technical solutions that were developed, and what was approved’ (Daheshpour & Herbert, 2018).

This significantly increased the timescale for completion, and in turn, worsened public trust in politicians.

A shift towards long-term planning

In August 2022, Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego was elected president of Colombia.

Since then, a new National Development Plan has been created, including the national vision and plans for infrastructure until 2030.

This plan is underpinned by a long-term focus, whereas previous plans have been centred around short-term solutions.

To complement this, the Colombian Business Council for Sustainable Development (CECODES) launched their new guide ‘Vision 2050 Colombia: a business focus’.

It calls on different stakeholders in Colombia, including the government, academia, investors, and society, to change mindsets and, in turn, accelerate actions needed to achieve sustainable development.

Value of working beyond political cycles

It’s too early to assess the impact of the national visions put forward by the Colombian government and CECODES, but they do represent a growing appetite for institutional change.

While a new National Development Plan is created after every presidential election, the addition of a national vision for infrastructure that transcends the political life cycle demonstrates a move towards long-term strategic planning.

‘Vision 2050 Colombia’ consolidates this shift and encourages all sectors of society to engage with sustainability principles.

Setting out a clear long-term overview of infrastructure is one of the first tasks governments need to complete before investing in new projects.

This step should form the basis of any national infrastructure strategy and address all ESG components.

Related links

Our EBI guidance provides valuable oversight on how governments can establish a long-term national vision to boost infrastructure development.

To find out more, please read our EBI report.

  • Adina Nembhardt, EBI programme researcher at ICE