2050: Diego Mesa – The Creative Financier

What is your job? 

Minister of Energy and Mines, Colombia. I am responsible for the design and implementation of Colombia’s energy, petroleum, and mining policy. This includes managing an annual budget of $1.5 billion and 800 professional and technical staff. I also chair the Board of Directors of the Energy and Gas Regulation Commission, the National Hydrocarbon Agency, the National Mining Agency, the Energy and Mining Planning Unit, and the Institute for Off-Grid Zones.

How are you helping cool the planet through your work? 

Our energy transition policy has awarded more than 2,800 megawatts of power generation capacity of solar photovoltaics and wind projects through competitive and innovative auctions. These projects, which increase 2018’s installed capacity of variable renewable energy 100-fold, will avoid some 4.7 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2030, or about as much carbon as would be absorbed by 28 million trees.

We also enacted the Climate Action Integral Plan for our energy and mining sector, which aims to reduce 11.2 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Already, we’ve signed an alliance with the 10 largest power generation companies to become carbon neutral by 2050, and signed MOUs [Memoranda of Understanding/Agreement] with our petroleum and natural gas associations. Leading by example, the Ministry of Energy and Mines is Colombia’s first ministry to be certified carbon neutral, reducing 191 tons of CO2 emissions annually. Moreover, with our Transportation, Environment and Trade Ministries, we passed in 2019 our Electric Mobility bill, making Colombia Latin America’s top buyer of electric vehicles (EVs). More than 7,000 EVs are on our roads, cutting roughly 12,600 tons of CO2 emissions annually. We also awarded Latin America’s first auction for large scale battery storage, and launched geothermal and the region’s first forestry biomass energy generation projects. Finally, we expect our new Hydrogen Road Map, with our first two green hydrogen plants already in operation, to cut 2.5 to 3 million tons of CO2 emissions over the next decade.

What most surprised you about your job? 

How much well-designed and practical policies can help companies invest heavily to fight climate change. Colombia lacks multi-billion-dollar grants to promote new industries or technologies, and budget for renewable energy subsidies. But well-crafted policies including investment-based tax incentives have transformed our energy sector in just four years, resulting in variable renewable energy projects valued at more than USD$3 billion — all from private sources.

What can we do to get more young people into public service?

By explaining how powerfully public service can change the world. I suggest social media campaigns illustrating how the right decisions by policy makers are effectively fighting climate change, keeping the 1.5 degrees Celsius promise alive. More public sector internship programs could help a lot, as well as mentorship programs granting students real access to senior policy officials. Finally, a program allowing high school and college students “to become ministers for a day” could help spark interest in public service. Personally, starting my career at the IMF [International Monetary Fund], where I advised governments on energy, petroleum, and mining policies, helped me 10 years later realize that I could be much more impactful at the helm of my country. In 2018, I gratefully joined our government as Deputy Minister of Energy. Two years later I was promoted to Minister. This has been my most rewarding and challenging job, ever.


20 People Helping Cool the Planet by 2050

Carolyn Whelan

Carolyn is a writer, editor and analyst who covers the nexus between business and social justice issues. She broke into journalism at the Rio Earth Summit where she interviewed Al Gore and environmental pioneer David Brower. Topics covered since then range from climate change and higher education costs to drugs pricing, geopolitical strife, business ethics, artificial intelligence, gene editing, alternative energy and the search for good jobs -- and innovation in all these areas. Her pieces, reported from Europe, the US and South America have appeared in Fortune, Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal and SciAm.com. Previously she worked for the Economist Intelligence Unit, Barrons.com, Columbia Business School, WWF, the UN and PwC. Carolyn is fluent in French and Spanish and resides in Brooklyn.

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