UN calls on Chile’s environmental injustices, suggests human rights-based approach

The United Nations commented on Chile’s environmental and human rights issues in a press release on May 12. The press release came after a UN visit. A full report to the UN Human Rights Council will be available in March 2024.

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David Boyd, paid a visit to Chile from May 3 to May 12. Boyd concluded that the country faces an environmental crisis that violates human rights such as the fundamental right to live in a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. However, Boyd was also impressed by the country’s efforts in the renewable energy sector.

Chile is suffering from global climate crises such as droughts, desertification, devastating wildfires, sea level rise, heat waves, coastal erosion, and extreme weather events, Boyd said.

“These crises include: profoundly disturbing sacrifice zones where marginalized and vulnerable communities suffer exposure to toxic substances and environmental degradation; water scarcity, as many rural residents lack access to safe and sufficient water; and deadly air pollution,” the UN Special Rapporteur said in a report concluding his visit.

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Boyd said the country needs to tackle these crises with urgent actions to ensure all citizens have access to clean water, clean air, and a non-toxic environment.

The UN Special Rapporteur called on the country to implement stronger environmental laws and stricter enforcement policy.

Boyd visited Quintero, Puchuncavi, Calama, Salar de Atacama, Puerto Montt, and Santiago. During his visit, the UN Special Rapporteur met with local and national government officials, the National Human Rights Institution, and businesses among others.

Apart from the callouts, Boyd was impressed by the country’s effort in transitioning to renewable energy.  “I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Chile is number one globally in the share of electricity produced by solar power,” he said, “and Chile’s recent Framework Law on Climate Change is very strong.”

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Chile is also on the right path to fulfill its commitment to protect 30 percent of its terrestrial and marine territory by 2030, having already protected 21 percent of its land and 41 percent of its oceans, Boyd said.

He applauded the government’s action of closing coal-fired power plants and a state-owned smelter in Las Ventanas after reports of intoxication from the factory.

All future climate and environmental efforts must be taken from a human rights-based approach, prioritizing the rights of vulnerable society members such as indigenous groups, the UN Special Rapporteur said. “Human rights must be placed at the heart of this effort. This is a legal obligation, not an option.”

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