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Lessons learned from Colombia NCAP Project

This article summarises the main lessons learnt from the Colombia NAP project.

Long-term planning is essential

To adapt effectively to SLR and other climate change effects planning needs to start at least 10 to 30 years ahead of time. At times it will be necessary to plan for the relocation of people, habitats and buildings. To do so cost-effectively early action is required. Moreover, to cope with the uncertainty related to climate change and coastal dynamics, flexibility in management and planning is necessary.

Think and act in a wider context

The boundaries used for territorial planning do not consider the boundaries of Environmental Coastal Units . To adopt a flexible and responsive approach to deal with coastal change, planning and action needs to consider a much wider spatial context which includes managing freshwater catchments and coastal units.

Work with nature not against it

Experience has demonstrated that working while respecting natural processes is the most sustainable approach. In some cases, this will mean undoing past mistakes by destroying physical structures and allowing the coast to recover naturally. In other cases, it will be necessary to divide action into phases, implementing temporary solutions in the short-term whilst allowing natural defenses to develop in the medium and long-term.

Solutions need alliances

Given the impact that decisions taken today may have on the site and the surroundings, it is not possible to operate in isolation. Facing the problems and challenges affecting the study areas requires collaborative action between the local population and neighboring coastal owners and managers. Mutually beneficial solutions like large-scale realignment projects can only be achieved by adopting a strong partnership approach.

Participation is crucial

Raising awareness of the potential impacts of climate change effects in coastal areas is vital to gain public trust. Any strategy that implies realignment of the coast could create uncertainty and even hostility among the local population. Therefore, building consensus and providing information is fundamental and crucial to find sustainable solutions. This process takes time and effort, but INVEMAR is not alone in building capacity. All coastal institutions face the challenges generated by climate change and SLR. To cope with these challenges and plan the development of the coastal areas, these institutions need a common approach that manages the risks these changes may bring.

Strategic Recommendations

  • The study has determined that SLR will have mainly negative impacts since it will cause sea intrusion, erosion and flooding, among other effects that will affect both study areas. Therefore, a deeper study of the consequences of SLR is crucial, to define how impacts can be reduced.
  • However, it is important to note that SLR can also result in some positive effects. It is therefore important to carry out more research into the potentially positive impacts so that adaptation measures can be developed to diminish the negative effects but seize the positive benefits generating new opportunities for sustainable development.
  • Risks related to SLR and other climate change effects have not been included in any management plan or development policy at the national, regional or local level. The country must implement adaptation measures as soon as possible so that these act as preventive measures (planned adaptation) and not as reactive measures, which are more expensive and more difficult to implement. The planning process should be continuous, participative and flexible allowing for changes along the way.
  • To implement the most suitable adaptation measures and strategies it is important to first build capacity. In this sense, this study has been critical as it generates relevant information and discussion among stakeholders to support the decision-making process into the reduction of SLR related risks. This study has also identified considerations and actions that have to be taken into account to achieve successful implementation of the proposed adaptation strategies.
  • Indicators have to now be designed at the local level to define the effectiveness of adaptation measures over time; local institutional capacity has to be strengthened; more research and quality information has to be produced to support decision-making and planning; and involvement and cooperation between stakeholders has to be enhanced.
  • Given the constant threat of tsunamis in Tumaco and large daily tide variation, it could be considered that this area has a high response capacity to sea level changes. However, the state of their natural systems which have been greatly affected by human activity has converted Tumaco into a highly vulnerable area. In the future, this situation will worsen. Therefore, more studies and actions have to be developed in Tumaco (as well as in Cartagena) that focus on increasing adaptive capacity by decreasing the susceptibility of natural systems.
  • The ability of humans and natural systems to adjust and adapt to SLR lies in the interdependence between socio-economic systems and natural systems. This interdependence is evident in the study areas where the sustainability of livelihoods depends on the quality of ecosystems and the environment, as well as on access to and the use of natural resources. Therefore, given future uncertainties and the development objectives in both areas, enhancing natural systems’ resilience in Cartagena and Tumaco should be prioritized as an adaptive strategy.
  • In the process of implementing adaptation strategies, it is important to consider the culture in both study areas. Previous efforts to introduce risk prevention measures into these areas have failed due to a lack of understanding about the culture. Therefore, it is necessary to engage different stakeholders in the process, in particular it is crucial to inform the local communities about the risks and involve them in the process. Likewise, the involvement of the private sector is indispensable.
  • Finally, to improve the quality and availability of information it is necessary to develop a network of information exchange and strengthen the inter-institutional cooperation between research and governmental entities.

Back to an overview of the Colombia part of the NCAP project, or the homepage for the NCAP Programme.

Source text

This article is taken from the chapter “Building Capacity in Two Vulnerable Areas of the Colombian Coastal Area” in O’Brien, G., Devisscher, T., O’Keefe, P. (Eds.) (2010) The adaptation continuum: groundwork for the future. Netherlands Climate Assistance Programme (pp. 93-134)

Suggested citation:

Vides, M., Sierra, P., Ariasis, F., Devisscher, T. and Downing, T. E. (2010) Building Capacity in Two Vulnerable Areas of the Colombian Coastal Area. In: O’Brien, G., Devisscher, T., O’Keefe, P. (Eds.) The adaptation continuum: groundwork for the future (pp. 93-134). Saarbrücken, Germany: LAP LAMBERT Academic Pub.

On weADAPT, the Collaborative Platform on Climate Adaptation. (Date information retrieved), from Key findings from Colombia NCAP Project, 30th March 2011, from

Related Pages

Colombia NCAP project overview: Building Capacity in two vulnerable areas of the Colombian coastal area

Key findings from Colombia NCAP Project

Methodology of Colombia NCAP Project

Netherlands Climate Assistance Programme

Colombia NCP synthesis report

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