A recent bill to protect glaciers and their perimeters has been weakened. The modifications were made after CODELCO pressured Congress. Environmentalists argue this puts Chile’s glaciers, which are already at a higher than usual risk of melting away completely, in even more danger.
Glaciers store about three-fourths of the planet’s freshwater supply. As such, they are an important environmental feature and resource. Over the past few weeks, a bill regarding the protection of glaciers in national territory has been working its way through the Senate. The bill originally forbade any kind of intervention in any glacier, with the threat of jail time for breaking the law. It also included not just the glaciers but also the areas surrounding them and their ecosystems, which included periglacial environments and permafrost.
The National Copper Corporation (CODELCO), however, claimed that 40 percent of its output depended on its work in areas near glaciers, especially in the Andina, El Teniente, and Salvador mine operations. After CODELCO’s intervention, the bill’s protections were limited to glaciers, themselves, and not also their perimeters. The bill was also modified to provide that for activities taking place in periglacial environments, projects would have to be analyzed to prove that nearby glaciers would not be impacted.
Environmental organizations claim the bill is now just a false front for the protection of glaciers. In conversation with Radio Universidad de Chile, the spokeswoman for the Glaciers Defense Territory Coordination, María Jesús Martínez, said that the bill “doesn’t protect the glacier’s ecosystem, it proposes a fragmented vision of what an ecosystem is, because, on one hand, it establishes an apparent protection to certain glaciers, and, on the other, in legalizes the defenselessness of the glacier environment and the permafrost.”
As reported by El Mostrador, Senator Guido Girardi (PPD), part of the Mining Committée of the Senate, disagreed. He defended the modification, claiming that the bill “is one of the toughest and most demanding regulations on the planet to protect glaciers. Before, there wasn’t any protection, so it’s hard to understand the criticism, since, with this process, glaciers will be protected for the first time in Chile,” and added that “the periglacial areas also have a high standard of protection.”
During the discussions on the bill’s reach, an article was published by the Geology and Civil Engineering Department from the University of Chile, along with the Mining Technology Advances Center, showing that glaciers in the central zone of Chile are absorbing more solar energy, which increases their risk of disappearing.
The Senate should vote on the modified bill within the next few weeks.
Javiera is from Santiago de Chile, she is studying journalism at Universidad de Chile, since 2017 and doing her internship at Chile Today.