Colombia: Assessing health co-benefits of air quality and climate change mitigation actions

This project strengthened capacity in Colombia’s health sector to support implementation of its nationally determined contribution (NDC). This work enabled health considerations on air quality and climate change action plans to be incorporated into policy instruments and support the post COVID-19 recovery process. 

This project advanced several other national policies and commitments, including the achievement of strategic objectives on environmental health that were setup as a priority of the Ten-Year Public Health Plan 2012-2021; implementation of the CONPES 3943 of 2018 "Colombian Policy for the Improvement of Air Quality"; application of Law 1931 of 2018, which defines the "Integrated Territorial Climate Change Management Plans (PTCCMP), relevant targets of the Agenda 2030’s Sustainable Development Goals, the recently finalized National Short-Lived Climate Pollutant (SLCP) Strategy. 


In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic recovery, this project strengthened Colombia’s health sector capacities to support the NDCs. The objective was to fully incorporate health considerations into air quality and climate change action plans and policy instruments. Main objectives included:

  • Enhancing health sector leadership and analytical capacities to formulate and implement inter-sectorial policies and actions   
  • Developing analytical capacities and tools to raise country ambitions on health, climate and clean air goals 
  • Assessing specific actions from the health sector to reduce its carbon footprint.  

Why we did this work

There is a growing consensus that post COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts should address as priorities the public health emergency from air pollution and the global climate crisis. Collaborative efforts from the health and environmental sectors are critical to develop solutions with multiple benefits for public health and the environment, while largely contributing to build more equitable societies, boosting employment and fostering economic prosperity.   

A coordinated approach by the health and environment sectors, articulated with other government branches at all levels, is necessary to better tackle the multiple health implications of climate change and air pollution. Such an approach will also enhance results for public health, well-being, and equality, and remove burdens for vulnerable groups.   

These benefits are numerous in Colombia, a country faced with several vulnerabilities to climate change and air pollution. Nearly 60% of the Colombian population live in municipalities classified as very high risk to climate change. The health impacts from environmental risk factors impose a heavy cost to the national economy: between 8,000 and 17,500 annual premature deaths, leading to economic loses valuated in 12.2 billion Colombian pesos -or 1.5% of the GDP.  

Under the Paris Agreement, Colombia has committed to reduce its emissions by 20% by 2030 with no condition, and by an additional 30% if international assistance is provided. 

Activities completed

Increase national capacity to incorporate a health dimension into climate and clean air interventions and into the post-COVID green recovery planning processes:  

  • Streamlined the health databases to local level mortality and morbidity databases in the targeted cities. This work supported the assessment of health co-benefits of air quality improvements as well as climate change mitigation actions, lastly facilitating the reporting of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Indicators 11.6.2 (Annual mean levels of fine particulate matter (e.g. PM2.5 and PM10) in cities) and 3.9.1 (Mortality rate attributed to household and ambient air pollution).  
  • Estimated the burden of disease attributable to air pollution in targeted cities. 
  • Identified measures to promote health that aim at reducing the population’s exposure to air pollution while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  

Estimate the health sector’s carbon footprint and identifying strategies for a clean energy transition: 

  • Identified activities that generate greenhouse gas emissions in the health sector. 
  • Developed a methodology to estimate greenhouse gas, SLCP and atmospheric pollutant emissions from the health sector based on country and international experiences and best practices. 
  • Identified, assessed and prioritised mitigation actions focused on clean energy and estimate reduction scenarios.  

Capacity building to support the decision-making process and high-level leadership engagement: 

  • Prepared training materials and case studies on the main components of the project.
  • Held a virtual training course to support a continuous program for health and environmental officers on estimating health co-benefits of mitigation actions, make a tutored version available to the BreatheLife Network. 
  • Organised a workshop to facilitate multiagency and multi-stakeholder dialogue to discuss the further integration of project results into policy instruments from both the health and environment sector. 

More information about the project is available on the Clean Air Institute’s website.