Chilean Government Seeks to Battle Climate Change By Law

SANTIAGO –  The environment ministry is developing the first law on climate change. Given that Chile is highly susceptible to climate change, the government seeks to use the law to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Critics demand, however, authorities get real enforcement power to avoid making the law a paper tiger.

The effects of climate change will worsen if the issue is not tackled systematically and globally. The Paris Accords, which went into effect in 2016, were meant to strengthen the global response to the threat by preventing the increase of global temperatures by more than 2°C. Signatories pledged to reach carbon neutrality between 2050 and 2100. The agreement is non-binding and can’t enforce any mechanisms or laws in a country; each government must determine how to reach carbon neutrality.

In 2018 the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) released a report which concluded that to avoid the most severe and catastrophic consequences, global temperatures should not rise more than 1.5°C. Considering that temperatures already rose 1°C, the most aggressive measures should be considered and implemented worldwide.

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The Draft: Unique and Urgent

Chile complies with seven of the 10 parameters that make it susceptible to the consequences of climate change, with an increase of 0.1 – 0.2°C per decade is expected to occur depending on the region. In this context the government has created a bill to define the principles and alignments under which Chile will tackle climate change.

It will guide government entities in managing and preventing climate change, as well as the principles of the rules that will be enforced. This will become the first law to govern a response to climate change and its most ambitious aim is to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, making Chile the first developing country to create such a law and commit to carbon neutrality.  

The 26-page draft details the principles and the institutionality given to the matter, as well as the long-term goals, data handling, outreach and finance. Provisions exist to modify the law as circumstances change to adjust its content to reality. It establishes duties state entities have regarding climate change at national and municipal level. The entities and their work will come under revision every five or 10 years to ensure the goals are being accomplished and push the country toward carbon neutrality. 

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Two frameworks – mitigation and adaptation – serve as the foundations of the law. With the former, lawmakers aim to slow down or prevent the most serious consequences of climate change. This framework includes reforestation and decarbonization. The second framework includes ways to adapt, circumvent and/or take advantage of the new reality. 

Different ministries will be involved in each framework with their own budgets to accomplish the goals. For example, for mitigation, the ministries of energy, communication and transportation, environment, mining, health, agriculture, and housing will be involved. And for adaptation, the ministries of public works, economy, tourism, defense and others will have a say.

An Outline of the Bill

Source: Chile Environmental Ministry

The bill puts much focus on education, innovation and research by creating a more understandable database on the research on climate change. The new one will include six publicly accessible databases that contain data about current changes in climate, projections based on current and past data, a system with the carbon footprint of all companies, a repository with scientific papers on climate change, access to information, research, and status on the work of the ministries,  and opportunities for citizen participation.

Criticism on Enforcement and Citizen Participation

The development of this bill started in July 2018, and the draft is open for public consultation until July 31. A schedule on past and future meetings can be accessed on the environment ministry’s website

On July 12, a meeting took place for Valparaíso region in which the law was explained to the attendees, who could also discuss it in groups and suggest changes. Overall, the law was criticized for the little authority the environmental ministry would get to enforce the law. All groups at the meeting found that since the ministry wouldn’t have sufficient oversight powers, the law could hardly be enforced. Another frequent criticism was that citizen participation was non-binding. Participants thus suggested that these issues should be changed in the version that will be presented to Congress in August or September.

The draft can be seen here. Feedback can be given through local branches of the environment ministry and online.

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