Beyond Oil: Colombia’s Public Approach to Energy Transition
April 2, 2024
|        BULLETIN #

Beyond Oil: Colombia’s Public Approach to Energy Transition

As TUED South prepares to co-convene a policy meeting on the public pathway in Bogota (see below), this bulletin features an article by Daniel Chavez and TUED’s Lala Peñaranda, published in the Transnational Institute’s 12th annual State of Power. This year’s report, “Energy, Power and Transition”,  focuses on corporate and financial actors in fossil capitalism, the perils of an unjust energy transition, and opportunities for systemic change. Below is an excerpt from the article, followed by information on the Second TUED South Regional Policy Meeting. 

State-Run Oil Companies and the Energy Transition: The Case of Colombia’s Ecopetrol

Illustration by Matt Rota©

Colombia’s energy transition has several unique characteristics. The country’s president is a former guerrilla and an environmentalist very much grounded in the science of climate change, who points to the limitations of capitalism to meet climate targets. The national oil company has started to implement a transformation in its operations and founding mission, with one foot in the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and another firmly placed on the road to a just transition. Trade unions and environmental organisations are eager to have a greater say on the transition, with proposals and demands that converge in some respects and diverge in others.

Like most other national oil and gas companies (NOGCs), Ecopetrol faces enormous challenges, considering its crucial role in providing vital resources that the government needs to finance public services and a just transition, achieve energy security and sustain or generate hundreds of thousands of jobs. The commitment to transform and diversify operations to enable Ecopetrol to become an integrated energy company is unprecedented in the world. However, the adjective ‘just’ that precedes the characterisation of the transition announced in the company’s Strategy 2040 is not entirely precise in its scope and contents. The pledge is mainly reflected in the announced plans to expand access to energy services as a priority of the subsidiary company ISA. The official documents do not specify exactly how the transformation of Ecopetrol will be integrated into the framework of the Just Transition Roadmap launched by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, especially concerning the distribution of the benefits and costs of the energy transition and the impacts on workers and local communities.

From outside Colombia, the route Ecopetrol should take seems obvious and easy to follow: accelerate its transition away from fossil fuels, diversify, and benefit from improved resilience and reduced vulnerability to external and domestic pressures, such as oil and gas price volatility, supply disruptions, environmental disasters and investor pressure. However, our interviews with representatives of government bodies, trade unions, environmental organisations and research centres in Colombia show that in fact, the road is much bumpier, narrower and uphill than it might seem, for several reasons.

  • NOGCs are crucial in the energy transition because they are some of the world’s largest oil producers and are often the largest companies at the national level. Researchers, trade unionists and environmental organisations need to deepen and expand their exchanges on the role of the state and the meaning and prospects of the public pathway in the energy sector.
  • Colombia has few remaining years of energy sufficiency and depends on fossil fuels for its exports and public budget. This is one of the leading challenges facing the country’s decarbonisation ambitions. The current capacity for electrification is nowhere near meeting future needs. The energy transition requires political will along with financial resources. Colombia has proven capacity to generate solar, wind, marine and geothermal energy, but without resources, the energy transition is not viable. The approximately $8 billion that Ecopetrol contributes each year to the state coffers cannot be ignored.
  • Despite tensions and contradictory official discourse on the current direction of the energy transition, significant progress has been achieved, including the commitment to halt new oil and gas exploration contracts, the beginning of diversification of Ecopetrol’s portfolio, the decision to end fracking, and growing debates on the democratisation of Ecopetrol’s board of directors.
  • Further democratisation will imply dealing with the legacy of the Colombian armed conflict and previous links between the far right and Ecopetrol and authoritarian repression, which disproportionately targeted oil workers.

The government led by Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez is trying to show the world that it is possible to manage the decline and restructuring of oil companies for social benefit. Colombia has proposed the deployment of a global ‘Marshall Plan’ to fight climate change and indicated that a tax on financial transactions could be a way to obtain some of the resources that are urgently needed. Continue reading… 

TUED South Regional Policy Meeting in Bogotá

TUED South, launched in 2022, is preparing for the upcoming Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) Regional Policy Meeting in Bogotá, Colombia between May 7-9, 2024. One of the meeting’s main objectives is to strengthen and build cohesion between LAC-based TUED South trade unions leading up to the Global TUED South meeting in Buenos Aires at the end of this year. 

The following timeline contextualises the meeting within the larger TUED South agenda:

  • October 2022: Launch of TUED South in Nairobi, Kenya 
  • May 2023: The Sub-Saharan Africa Policy Meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa 
  • May 2024: The Latin America Regional Policy Meeting in Bogotá, Colombia 
  • July 2024: The Asia-Pacific Regional Policy Meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia
  • November 2024: II TUED South Interregional Meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina 

The Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) Regional Policy Meeting in Bogotá is co-hosted by the host country’s leading trade union bodies, including two national centres (CUT Colombia and CTC), energy sector unions for coal, electricity, and oil (Sintracarbon, Sintraelecol, USO, respectively), municipal public services (Sintraemcali), energy transition research centres (including Cipame), and allies including Public Services International (PSI), Transnational Institute (TNI), the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (CSA-TUCA), and OWTU (Trinidad & Tobago).

Our next bulletin will go into further detail about the LAC Regional Policy Meeting. In the meantime, you can read the meeting outline here. Stay tuned!