Heritage Colombia (HECO): Resilient landscapes that maximizes contribution to Colombia´s mitigation and adaptation goals

Area characterisation: 

Colombia’s climate spans an ample range, from very humid tropical rainforest to arid deserts. The climate variations across the country are due in part to the varied landscapes, which includes the Andes mountains, Amazon forest, Pacific and Caribbean coasts and Orinoquia ́ plains. Historically Colombia has been prone to catastrophes triggered by strong climate variability (mostly associated with El Niño) and extreme hydro meteorological events. In the future temperature increases, changes in precipitation patterns, droughts, flooding and landslides are likely to be the most significant climate threats in Colombia. In this context Colombian forests are at the same time a major component of the countries mitigation agenda (maintenance of carbon sinks, reduced deforestation, increased restoration) and a major resource for climate adaptation either at the local and sub national scale.

Regarding forested landscapes and their role in GHG emissions and mitigation, the country’s natural forests cover app. 60 million hectares and storage app 26.22 billion T CO2eq2. During the period 1990- 2016, 6 million hectares were deforested throughout the country. According to the National Greenhouse gas inventory (IDEAM 2017) in 2012 the country GHG emissions were 185.6 Mt CO2eq, 43% of which came from the agricultural, forest and land us change activities (AFOLU)with deforestation contributing app. 35% of it.

Regarding ecosystem services that may be negatively impacted by climate change, according to the National Water Study (IDEAM 2015), almost 50% of the countries domestic hydric demand is concentrated in basins mainly supported by the function of the nearly 3 million hectares of High mountain (“paramo”) ecosystems, the same region that supports most of the country’s hydroelectric resources. These valuable ecosystem services have been affected by climate variability, extreme events and climate change. For example, the 2010-2011 “La Niña” caused floods and landslides that affected more than 3.2 million people, flooded 3.5 million hectares and 845 primary and secondary routes, resulting 6 billion dollars of economic damage. (ECLAC, 2012). The 2015-2016 “El Niño” resulted in 237 municipalities (21% of the 1 App. 52% of the country’s continental surface, IDEAM 2017) 2 2010 figures, Phillips et al. 2011 national total) experiencing fresh water shortages and 296 municipalities (26% of the total) that had to resort to water rationing.

On the other hand, the Colombian National System of Protected Areas currently covers approximately 31 million hectares. The contribution of protected areas and their buffer areas to carbon capture is 33% higher in relation to the total forest area of Colombia. Also, deforestation is 3.3 times higher outside PAs than inside. This contribution is of great importance because in Colombia the loss of natural forest is the largest source of the country's emissions, generating 36% of the total.

Taking into account that Colombia is highly vulnerable to climate change but also that it is a megadiverse country, there is a growing recognition and awareness in Colombia that nature can help to find solutions to climate change. Therefore, any national climate change strategy in Colombia should consider the participation of protected areas, particularly in a country whose territory is half covered by forests. In this context, the declaration and effective management of protected areas is needed in order to allow the reduction of land use change and to safeguard biodiversity and ecosystem services. In addition, it is necessary to promote the management of protected areas in the wider landscapes in order to guarantee the function of ecosystems and their services. However, it will not be possible to achieve a significant contribution from PAs and landscapes if we do not aim for the financial sustainability of the PAs system and other conservation strategies in landscape scenarios. For this reason, the initiative Heritage Colombia (HECO) will ensure in the long term the necessary funds and capacities of the National System of Protected Areas and other conservation strategies.

The goal of HECO is to ensure the conservation and long-term financing of 20 million hectares through 3 targets:

1) Declaration of new 3.5 million hectares of protected areas and provide them with adequate operation standards,

2) Increase of PAs effective management in 14 million hectares in already existing PAs, and

3) Establishment of 9 landscapes for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. Under this program, the management and creation of protected areas must go hand in hand with conservation strategies outside PAs in the form of landscapes. This increases socio-ecosystem connectivity in the regions, and promotes the implementation of good practices in the territory.

In addition, HECO seeks to improve the resilience of ecosystems and their services, strengthen adaptation to climate change of the most vulnerable populations, and reduce deforestation and degradation of forests with high carbon content.

The 9 selected landscapes of intervention cover an area of 35.8 million hectares: over 30% of the country. Together, these nine landscapes include national, sub national and locally protected areas, immersed in a mosaic of mixed use and productive landscapes that if sustainably managed can stock in perpetuity large amounts of carbon, contribute to water regulation and increase the resilience to climate change of a population of over 32 million people, in some cases directly (people living inside or in the vicinity of the nine selected landscapes), or indirectly (people that benefits from the ecosystem services provided by these areas).


Heritage Colombia (HECO) is a paradigm changing programme, that through a resilient landscapes approach and a long term financial scheme, will strengthen the adaptation and mitigation to climate change of rural Colombia through the, protection and sustainably management of important ecosystems and ecosystem services, reducing deforestation and degradation in the country’s carbon-rich ecosystems. This programme focuses on 9 landscapes and will deliver verifiable climate mitigation and adaptation impacts through

(1) improving land use planning;

(2) reducing vulnerability of local livelihoods;

(3) enlarge and improve management effectiveness of national and regional protected areas critical for the provision of ecosystem services; (4) develop and implement new mechanisms to increase funding for the country’s system of protected areas (SINAP).



The estimated mitigation impacts have been consolidated by HECO partners based on:

(i) Atlas de Carbono Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia 2018

( ii) Stock de carbono- Potencial de Restauración Áreas Protegidas Toneladas de CO2 equivalente a 2030;

(iii) Reporte de Reducción de Emisiones bajo el acuerdo REDD, REM.

(iv) boletines de deforestación del IDEAM. According to the project´s theory of change, all of the above are framed under the GCF´s mitigation logic model, with “Reduced emissions from land use, deforestation, forest degradation, and through sustainable management of forests and conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

• Mitigation 1: Approximately 100.9 Mt CO2eq of emission reductions will be achieved in the project sites in the programme’s 20 years lifespan through reduced deforestation, reduced degradation, natural re-growth and reforestation.

• Mitigation 2: Over 4.975 Mt CO2eq– the carbon stock in the standing forests of the targeted landscapes-- will be preserved during the programme's 20 years lifespan.

INCREASING CLIMATE RESILIENCE The project´s impact on adaptation was also a result of the joint effort between the HECO Programme Partners, and based on: (i) Colombia´s National Climate Risk Assessment, document and submitted through the countries Third National Communication to the UNFCCCC ( 2017); (ii) The National Freshwater Assessment (2018); (iii) The National Assessment on Ecosystem Services and Protected Areas (2016). According to the project´s theory of change, all of the above are framed under the GCF´s adaptation logic model, taking as a reference: (a) increased resilience and enhanced livelihoods of the most vulnerable people, communities and regions; (b) increased resilience of health and well being, and food and water security; (c) improved resilience of ecosystems and ecosystem services. (GCF/B.08/45)

• Adaptation 1: Local impact inside landscapes (direct beneficiaries): Approximately 3,800 families on targeted landscapes that participate in local adaptation strategies, each of which will explicitly account for risks and impacts of climate change, including (a) improved information gathering and capacity building for addressing climate change impacts in local livelihoods and natural resources management, (b) biodiversity conservation, (c) integrated water resources and basin management, (d) capacity building on sustainable agriculture, agroforestry and fishery , (e) improved ecosystem services, and (f) new and/or improved nature-based jobs, like ecotourism. 

• Adaptation 2: Local impact beyond landscapes (indirect beneficiaries): Approximately 540 Municipalities 251 Indigenous shelters, 89 Afro-Colombian community Councils) and cities (25 million inhabitants, that indirectly benefit from the ecosystem services provided in landscapes, that will be maintained through adaptive land use management strategies and resilience building actions that maintain key water regulation services, including (a) improved information and capacity building for climate smart land use planning and natural resources management, (b) investments in integrated, climate resilient water resource and basin management, (c) improved ecosystem services; (d) capacity building on sustainable agriculture, agroforestry and forestry; and (e) new and/or improved nature-based jobs, like ecotourism.

• Adaptation 3: Ecosystem services: Colombia Heritage ecosystem-based approach to adaptation will foster the resilience of targeted landscapes, looking for the sustainable provision of critical ecosystem services, including water provision and regulation, erosion and flood control, pollination, natural control of plagues, natural habitat, biodiversity, protection of cultural and spiritual values and more. Current estimates show that those ecosystem services account for approximately 1% of the country GDP.

• Adaptation 4: Infrastructure adaptation: HECO will provide ecosystem-based adaptation to critical water and hydro power valuable infrastructure located in or in the vicinity of the landscapes, and the water sources they depend on, for the benefit of approximately 25 million people.

A 2017 study estimated that the annual value of the ecosystem services provided by protected areas to the whole country by its biodiversity was app. 1% of countries GDP. The programme also seeks to contribute to the long term sustainable development of the country, through the development of innovative financing schemes such as the "Project Finance for Permanence" - PFP. This is a financial model that is based on the creation of an extinguishable transition fund with public and private resources leveraged for 20 years to ensure long-term financial sustainability. The PFP allows all those involved to make financial contributions and significant political commitments under a Single Agreement that guarantees the permanence and closing of the financial gap for the effective management of conservation and sustainable managed landscapes. Donors mobilize the necessary resources to close the financial gap by supporting the immediate implementation of the required actions, and governments commit to gradually increase the allocation of resources and implementation of actions to ensure the sustainability of the system in the long term.

HECO will deliver substantial benefits and help the country achieve its commitments adopted under the 2030 agenda across the economic, social and environmental sustainable development goals (SDGs), generating co-benefits to poverty reduction, resilient livelihoods, and sustainable water and energy access. HECO would make significant contributions to SDG 1 (ending poverty), SDG 5 (gender equality), SDG 6 (water), SDG 7 (Renewable Energy - Hydropower), SDG 11 (sustainable cities), SDG 12 (responsible production and consumption), SDG 13 (climate action); SDGs 14&15 ( Life on Water and Land), & SDG 17 (Public-private partnerships). The implementation of the different activities will target land use planning, local livelihoods, water security, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, and new employment opportunities, among others. In particular, Colombia has defined a set of national indicators for every SDG that will lead the efforts of the country towards achieving each of them. Specifically, HECO will contribute to some of these indicators, such as:

  • “Thousands of hectares in protected areas” corresponding to SDGs 11 (Sustainable cities), 14 (Life below water), and 15 (Life on land).
  • “Number of verified green business” corresponding to SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production).
  • “Reduction of total GHG emissions” corresponding to SDG 13 (Climate action). In addition, HECO will not only support the achievement of these SDGs but will also contribute to closing the gaps faced during the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to the CONPES 3918 which establishes the Strategy for the Implementation of the SDGs in Colombia, the country faced constraints related to the articulation of several actors (civil society, communities, private sector, local governments) as well as difficulties with ensuring the necessary means of implementation of the MDGs. In this regard, HECO is a tool to fill the shortcomings faced in the past, considering that the initiative is already creating alliances between the government, international donors, private sector and civil society for the implementation, and will strongly contribute to the mobilization of additional resources to deliver on the international and national sustainable development agendas.

HECO will directly contribute to the achievement of the CBD´s 2011 – 2020 Strategic Plan and its AICHI Targets, and therefore will support the fulfillment of Colombia’s NBSAP, which for the country’s case is the National Policy for the Integral Management of Biodiversity and its Ecosystem Services (PNGIBSE for its acronym in spanish), and its corresponding Biodiversity Action Plan, including the effective integration of biodiversity into sectorial policies, and the inclusion of key biodiversity hotspots, ecosystem services an protected areas into all Land Use Planning of 100% of the municipalities. In particular, the Aichi Targets to receive HECO’s co-benefits are: 5 (reduction of habitat loss), 6 (sustainable fisheries), 7 (sustainable agriculture), 10 (reduction of anthropogenic pressures on coral reefs), 11 (protected areas), 12 (species extinction), 14 (restoration), 15 (maintenance of carbon sinks), 18 (traditional knowledge), and 20 (resource mobilization). 

Potential impacts/benefits: 

HECO theory of change posits that the combination of: (a) new PAs conservation spaces; plus (b) the effective management of the existing SINAP; (c) the financial and technical effort to strengthen social and institutional governance of PAs and landscapes; plus (d) climate-smart land use planning; plus (e) technical and financial for new productive schemes and livelihoods that are environmentally sustainable and climate resilient; would result in sustainable multifunctional resilient landscapes that combine productive and protected landscapes, improve livelihood opportunities for local communities and deliver reduced deforestation and forest degradation, reduced GHG emissions, and increased provision of ecosystem services essential to the Colombian population. In terms of financial sustainability, the theory of change posits that there are opportunities to increase the long-term sustainable financing of the SINAP through mechanisms that monetize part of the ecosystem services provided by PAs, as is the case of carbon sequestration, water availability, ecotourism, etc. 

The programme is articulated with the following political and legal commitments and frameworks: National Determined Contributions (NDC): The Program will contribute promptly to the achievement of Colombia´s adaptation and mitigation goals, and also the implementation methods determined in the countries NDC: NDC-Mitigation: Among the measures prioritized by the national government to deliver on its mitigation national commitments:  Restoration: According the NDC, forest restoration has the fifth greatest potential for mitigation, and HECO can deliver up to 8,974 Ha of forest restoration.  Reduction of emissions from deforestation: HECO can contribute over 100.9 Mt CO2e of reduced emissions NDC-Adaptation: HECO would deliver on 5 of the country’s 10 priority adaptation measures, including:  Increase by more than 1.5 million hectares in coverage of new protected areas. Since the adoption of the countries´ NDC, Colombia started a participatory process to declare and/or expand protected areas, especially in places with exceptional importance for climate mitigation and adaptation.  Develop specific management and land use plans for the country’s priority watersheds. The HECO program sites include 20% of those priority watersheds, and subsequently will develop a climate- smart approach to formulate and implement the “integrated watershed management plans” (POMCA in Spanish)  100% of the national territory covered with climate change action plans. Considering that 14 % of the countries´ terrestrial land are protected areas, this initiative will develop and/or update those plans for each of the protected areas included in the HECO program.  Identification, zonation and conservation of high mountain ecosystems (paramos). The HECO program will develop specific adaptive and resilience management action on those ecosystems.  Increased resilience of local livelihoods.

NbS benefits 
  • Developing climate change adaptation; improving risk management and resilience
  • Reduce flood risk
  • Reducing temperature at meso or micro scale
  • Developing climate change mitigation
  • Carbon sequestration and storage
  • Restoring ecosystems and their functions
  • Increase achievements of biodiversity targets
  • Increase Biodiversity
  • Increased cultural richness and biodiversity
  • Increase well-being
  • Increase willingness to invest in NBS
  • Provision of health benefits
  • Social learning about location & importance of NBS
Transferability of the result: 

The Project for Permanence (PFP) model has been successfully implemented in other countries, such as Brazil (ARPA for Life), Costa Rica (Costa Rica Forever), Bhutan (Bhutan for Life), Peru (Natural Legacy), and Canada (Great Bear). HECO is part of WWF’s Earth for Life initiative, which aims to expand the PFP model across the globe. 


A central goal of HECO is to ensure the sustainable long-term financing of protected areas. To this end HECO includes, in its design and work plan a “Project Finance for Permanence” (PFP) approach. PFP is an innovative financial strategy based on (a) the creation of an extinguishable transition fund in which public and private resources (international cooperation, private sector, Civil society, philanthropy) are leveraged for a specific period of time to close the assessed funding gap, (b) the government is coached to find and develop new sources of sustainable funding for PAs (such as payment for environmental services, compensation and the application of carbon neutrality), and (c) the government also commits to yearly increase its own conservation funding so that by the end of the programme, it is able to take up the whole financing burden . An example of this new financing sources has been the Government's decision to provide Heritage Colombia with the 5% of the recently created carbon tax for the implementation of this programme.

Regarding the long-term sustainability of productive activities that HECO will support in the mixed-use landscapes (mosaics), to increase chances that they become economically viable and sustainable HECO will coordinate its interventions with existing national and local programmes that can strengthen them during HECO lifespan and support them once HRCO ends. These include, among others, the technical assistance programme of the Ministry of Agriculture, the capacity building programmes of SENA, market access programmes of the Ministry of Industry, and a host of civil society as NGO programmes active in the area. Also, when some of these productive initiatives become commercially profitable they will be able to access blended financing, attract impact investors and access other sources of rural funding like Finagro, Bancóldex and Findeter.

Regarding long term monitoring of HECO results, after the programme is implemented with support from the GCF and other sources, it should be pointed that the management of Colombia’s Amazon Protected Areas is not a one-shot action, but a country open-ended commitment and the National Parks Agency has already in place annual monitoring and reporting protocols. Beyond the monitoring responsibilities of the PA authorities, a good number of national and international stakeholders, among them Patrimonio Nacional, WWF Colombia, WCS, and CI regularly track the state of the country’s PAs and participate in discussions and activities to improve them (e.g. introducing new monitoring tools, training PA’s staff, etc.). 

The HECO programme will contribute to climate adaptation and mitigation through 5 components are as follow:

1. Adaptive governance in sustainable and resilient landscapes: This component will reduce the current fragmentation of governance, increase territorial integration and improve the financial sustainability of landscapes, through the generation of social agreements and articulation of environmental and sectoral policies, for example through agreements to pay for environmental services. It includes the following sub-components that complement or add to activities already initiated by Colombia’s PAs agency.

1.1. Intersectoral coordination: The programme will review relevant regulatory frameworks for natural resource management in the areas of intervention, and analyse how it can help address climatic vulnerability, land use and ecosystem flows. Based on that, the programme will generate capacities and support new bilateral or multilateral agreements between representatives of different sectors, levels of government and private owners to improve natural resource management, the rehabilitation or restoration of degraded lands, increase the resilience of landscapes to climate change negative impacts and ensure that landscapes continue to provide a steady flow of ecosystem services.

1.2. Climate smart land use planning: This line of work will strengthen the on-the-ground implementation of existing land-management policy and governance instruments, with an emphasis on mainstreaming climate mitigation and adaptation.

1.3. Education, communication and public awareness to increase stakeholders and public understanding of how communities, cities and economic sectors depend on ecosystem services from biodiverse landscapes and protected areas, and gain their support and involvement in conservation and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

1.4. Establishment of a training programme for SINAP staff and other interest groups to strengthen the planning, implementation and monitoring of conservation, mitigation and adaptation strategies, training will also be offered to staff from institutional stakeholders, local communities, Indigenous groups, on how to access, interpret and use climatic information for land use decision making.

2. Support to economic activities that contribute to local sustainable development and climate resilience. This component will improve the climatic resilience of prioritised landscapes and confront deforestation drivers in the mixed-use landscapes (mosaics) that are included in the project. It includes:

2.1 Sustainable forest management: To support local communities technical and business skills for sustainable and climate smart forestry activities, including timber and non-timber products. It will also support certification processes.

2.2. Nature tourism. To implement, update or where necessary prepare regional eco-tourism initiatives with participation of communities and other tourism stakeholders. It will include training and support for local groups to design business plans.

2.3. Sustainable farming and fishing systems. Technical assistance to producers to strengthen technical, financial and marketing capacities to undertake or extend environmentally sustainable agriculture, agroforestry, and fishing activities, including reforestation and rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems.

2.4. Responsible management of water resources. Design and implement actions, economic incentives and inter-institutional agreements to conserve water resources, ensure the long-term provision of water-related ecosystem services and improve the state of watersheds .

3. Increase the size of Colombia’s protected areas.

3.1. HECO will add an estimate of 1.5 million hectares to the national system of protected areas, selected based on a broad consultation process, the new PA will improve biodiversity connectivity and increase opportunities for ecosystem-based climate mitigation and adaptation.

3.2. Ensure a high (functional) level of natural resource management in the targeted landscapes and protected areas; Comprised of a participatory governance scheme, the development of management plans and the implementation of prioritized actions to ensure the maintenance of biodiversity, prioritizing ecosystem services that are directly linked with climate goals (mitigation and adaptation), resilience of local communities, and the overall sustainable development.

3.3. Strengthen coordination between multiple conservation strategies: Through coordination, joint activities and knowledge exchange between the country’s national system of PAs (SINAP) and Colombia’s other types of protected areas, e.g. Biosphere Reserves, Ramsar sites, bird sanctuaries (AICA), protected areas managed by civil society organizations and others.

4. Adaptive and effective management of the country’s national system of PAs (SINAP): Overall, the HECO Programme seeks to upgrade the management plans of 14.4 million of hectares of Colombia’s national parks. In this Phase I the goal is the upgrade of the management plans that correspond to 2.37 million hectares of PAs, and will include,

4.1. Design and implementation of a participatory and adaptive climate change monitoring systems, beyond feeding information into the PAs and buffer zones management plans this activity will also deliver information to the national forest and carbon monitoring system, the national biodiversity information system and the national system of adaptation indicators.

4.2. Generation and adoption of innovative governance schemes and local agreements that consider the on-theground reality and factor-in climate change impacts.

4.3. Implementation of prioritized adaptive management strategies, including climate adaptation strategies, the reduction of emissions associated with changes in land use (mainly deforestation), and enhancing conditions for natural restoration of forest coverage.

4.4. Periodical updating of management plans , including the necessary information to monitor, report and verify climate mitigation and adaptation benefits associated with the effective implementation the PA management plans.

5. Coordination and management of Programme: This component will finance all activities related to programme / project management and coordination, including the staffing and operation of a project/programme management unit (PMU) at the leading executing entity (EE) the production of technical and financial reports, monitoring and evaluation, financial and technical audits by independent third parties, expenses associated with comprehensive reviews of the Programme / project that will be held every 3 years, as well as the final programme / project implementation report. This component will also include:

5.1 Implementation of the environmental and social management plan and the implementation of the gender mainstreaming action plan.

5.2. Analysis, design, implementation and/or expansion of financial mechanisms with the goal of allowing the annual costs of SINAP to be covered in the long term. A promising area here will be generating payments for ecosystem services that recognize the role of PAs in the continuous provision of essential ecosystem services, such as carbon storage, water supply and regulation, biodiversity habitats, eco-tourism landscapes etc.

Stakeholders engagement in implementation

Given that the programme is a country commitment, and taking into account its level of ambition and complexity, it will be necessary to have the participation of all types of actors, including the national government, local authorities, civil society, the private sector, academia and communities. Only with the participation of multiple types of actors will the expected results be achieved, the permanence in time and the leverage of the required resources.

The different actors can, in general, contribute among others by means of:

  • Government: approval of laws and policies, expansion of systems of protected areas / other conservation strategies, promotion of sustainable financial mechanisms, contribution of resources and technical support in the design and implementation. Donors and private sector: mobilization of financial and technical resources to support the implementation of the immediate necessary actions that will guarantee the financial sustainability and capacity building of SINAP and other long-term conservation strategies,
  • Civil society and foundations: Support the mobilization of financial and technical resources from all sources to fill the gaps and needs identified for the implementation of HECO.
  • Work actively and jointly in the implementation of the objective and goals established by HECO, through the expertise and experience that each organization has gained in the territory.
  • Promote multi-stakeholder articulation in order to materialize the sustainable conservation and use strategy of the country's natural capital. Academia and research institutes: Encourage the exchange of technical and scientific knowledge required in the implementation of HECO’s goal and targets.
  • Contribute to the exchange of best practices and lessons learned related to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity for the good development of HECO.
  •  Work actively and jointly in the implementation of the objective and goals established by HECO, through expertise and experience since its mission.
Sustainable Development Goals 
  • 1. No Poverty
  • 2. Zero Hunger
  • 6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  • 12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  • 13. Climate Action
  • 14. Life Below Water
  • 15. Life On Land
  • 16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
Key Performance Indicators: