Colombia has experienced climate change litigation challenging a national climate law/policy in the following instances:
- Amazon case: plaintiffs were successful in demonstrating an omission and breach of duty by public authorities in protecting the Colombian Amazon, since the measures taken were not ambitious enough to tackle deforestation, which largely impacts climate change. As the Constitutional court recognised the Colombian Amazon as an entity subject to rights, the Plaintiffs exercised the tutela action, a mechanism used to protect fundamental rights to life, health and a healthy environment from violations by public authority.
- Páramo case: the Constitutional court recognised for the first time the important of a páramo or moor ecosystem against mining activities, for their ecological importance and difficulty in recovering from extractive activities. The constitutional decision was based on legal and scientific arguments in protecting a healthy environment and water resources, and the important role páramos play in mitigating the effects of climate change.
- Risk Management Policy case: the court recognised that fundamental rights to life and decent housing can be disrupted, as an immediate and direct consequence of the disturbance of collective rights. These fundamental rights were affected by environmental changes and a lack of local authorities’ response and proper risk management as obligated by the National Disaster Risk Management Law 1523 of 2012. Violation of this national law provided the grounds to base a claim challenging the state.
Remedies may entail court orders to public authorities to formulate and execute more ambitious action plans (Amazon case), and court orders to increase protective mechanisms to prevent damage to ecologically important areas, to prevent climate change acceleration (Páramo case).
Additionally, climate change litigation in Colombia can be brought by individuals challenging a national climate law/policy, on the following grounds:
- National Law: an individual can issue claims against their government for allegedly not complying with its international climate change obligations by claiming the application of a law or an administrative act (Article 87 of the Constitution) through the action of compliance included by Law 393 of 1997. Therefore, any act or omission of the government could be challenged if there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate the violation of climate change obligations. Plaintiffs would have to provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate the violation of climate change obligations for the court to hear the case.
- Human Rights: an individual could ground a claim based on a violation of the right to life, health and a healthy environment (Art. 79 of the Constitution) caused by ineffective climate policies/laws.
- Popular Action: can be used for the protection of collective rights and interests (Art. 88 of the Constitution).
- Tutela Action: can be used as a mechanism for the immediate protection of fundamental constitutional rights (Art. 86 of the Constitution), when in threat of being violated by ineffective climate action (Amazon case).
An interesting case to note regarding environmental law is the Atrato River case, which along with the Amazon Case, witnessed the Supreme Court recognise the Atrato River as an entity subject to rights and related to protection. Since the governmental, national, and local entities omitted to provide public responses to the needs of the territory and its habitants, the fundamental rights of the communities from the river basin were violated.
To remediate, the court recognised the biocultural rights of communities to manage and exercise autonomously the protection over their own territories and the natural resources that are part of their habitat.
- Supreme Court of Justice, Decision STC. 4360-2018. P.J. Luis Armado Tolosa Villabona. Bogotá, D.C., April 5th, 2018. (Amazon case)
- Constitutional Colombian Court. Decision C-035 of 2016. P.J. Gloria Stella Ortiz Delgado. Bogotá, D.C., February 8th, 2016. (Páramo case)
- Constitutional Colombian Court. Decision T-622 of 2016. P.J. Jorge Iván Palacio. Bogotá, D.C., November 10th, 2016. (Atrato River case)
- Constitutional Colombian Court. Decision T-269 of 2015. P.J. Jorge Iván Palacio. Bogotá, D.C., May 12th, 2015. (Risk management policy case).
For more country specific context and relevant national climate change law see: https://climate-laws.org/geographies/colombia
This country report has been produced by Elisa Granzotto, Research Assistant, Iona McEntee, C2LI Senior Research Assistant and Juan Auz, C2LI Legal Analyst. The summary is based on María del Pilar García Pachón, Adriana Viloria, María Daniela de la Rosa Calderón, “Climate Change Litigation in Colombia” in F. Sindico and M. Moise Mbengue, Comparative Climate Change Litigation: Beyond the Usual Suspects, Springer, 2021.