Agents of Impact | June 25, 2022

New Climate Leaders: Winning with a green agenda

Amy Cortese
ImpactAlpha Editor

Amy Cortese

If the rise of a Black former maid to vice president was once unthinkable in Colombia, so too was the idea that the oil- and coal- dependent nation would call a halt to new oil drilling and mining licenses and speed the transition to green energy.

That is the platform that swept Gustavo Petro, a former guerilla and mayor of Bogotá, and his environmentalist-lawyer running mate Francia Marquez, to victory this week in Colombia’s presidential elections. The pair campaigned on a promise to lift up marginalized communities and wean the economy off fossil fuels (lost revenues would be offset in part by selling carbon credits).

“This is the government of the people with calloused hands, the government of people who have to work,” said Marquez, who won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018 for her opposition to gold mining. “We’re going to fight for the rights of our Mother Earth.” 

Colombia’s green turn may reverberate across Latin America and beyond.

Australians last month gave the boot to climate laggard Scott Morrison, voting in as prime minister the Labor Party’s Anthony Albanese (and a slew of independent, eco-focused women). Overnight, the third-largest exporter of fossil fuels became a climate champion. Albanese plans to boost the country’s renewable energy mix from 30% to 82% by 2030 and to build out the electric-vehicle charging infrastructure.

The new prime minister has signaled he will join U.S. President Joe Biden’s methane reduction pledge, eschewed by Morrison, and bid to host the COP29 climate summit in 2024.

Australia and Colombia are not only major fossil fuel producers and exporters, they are among the most biodiverse nations in the world, along with Brazil. That petro-state is holding its own elections in October, pitting authoritarian leader – and climate denier – Jair Bolsonaro against former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who currently has a comfortable lead.

Colombia’s Petro has invited da Silva to be part of a regional anti-oil bloc. Lula, as da Silva is known, has pledged to protect the Amazon, but like many on Latin America’s left has not made climate action a major part of his platform.

Perhaps the victory of Petro and Marquez in Colombia will make him turn green with envy.