Bulletin Nº2 Chile’s New Constitution and Climate Change | Climate Governance and the Elements: A Proposal Regarding the Current National Institutional Structure for Climate Change


Authors: Marco Billi and Pilar Moraga | Editorial Leadership: Dominique Hervé and Pilar Moraga | Editorial Team: José Barraza.

Climate change is produced by human activities that affect multiple aspects of ecological and climatic systems, including the composition of the atmosphere, bodies of water (rivers, seas, glaciers) and vegetation, thereby reducing their capacities to regulate the climate (IPCC, 2021; Gallardo et al., 2019). The effects of climate change are already visible in Chile, which can be appreciated by the variation of averages of temperature, precipitation, and other climatic variables, and by the increase of the variability, frequency, and intensity of extreme events. This leads to consequences for the availability and quality of water resources, the health and wellbeing of the population, the conservation and equilibrium of ecosystems, productive activities, and sociocultural practices (Pica-Téllez et al., 2020).

Climate Governance in Chile

Climate governance is the way in which societies define objectives and priorities related to climate change mitigation and adaptation, make decisions, and implement and supervise actions for meeting such objectives and priorities (Billi et al., 2021; Sapiains et al., 2020). However, national climate governance is inadequate in the face of the challenges climate change poses today, principally because of the fragmentation and disorganization of State institutions that address this phenomenon.

The Current Fragmentation Between Agencies, Institutions, and Elements

Several problems for national governance related to climate change are the lack of management coordination, an excessive centralization of resources and skills, and a low consideration for territorial specificities and ecosystems.

Although the new climate institutional structure has advanced to the point of becoming an incipient coordination mechanism (Arriaga et al., 2018) that could strengthen the approval of the Climate Change Framework Law, governance continues to be highly fragmented in multiple agencies, regulations, and land management instruments that are disconnected from each other. Some examples of this are the artificial separation between land tenure and water use rights, the tendency of administrative limits to divide between watersheds and atmospheric basins, the arbitrary separation between urban zones and rural zones (masking peri-urban zones and those at the urban-rural interface), the duplication of ministries’ functions (including between entities in the same ministry), and the pluralization of actors and institutions in charge of the management of the Elements (For water alone, there exist more than 40 distinct public agencies). This deeply affects the efficiency in the use of the State’s limited resources to conduct integrated action for ecological and climatic management of the elements.

This integration is fundamental because the causes and consequences of climate change depend on the interaction of a variety of processes (human and natural) at multiple scales, which affects the four elements (water, air, earth, and fire). For example, changes in soil use influence water availability and fires (Centro de Ciencia del Clima y la Resiliencia CR2, 2015). The latter, for their part, increase due to climate change and drought, releasing greenhouse gases (which accelerate climate change) and local contaminants into the atmosphere (Centro de Ciencia del Clima y la Resiliencia CR2, 2020a). Pollution, finally, affects water and soil quality, and their ability to regulate the climate, and can in turn be compounded by climate change (Centro de Ciencia del Clima y la Resiliencia CR2, 2020b). Therefore, there needs to be an integrated management of the Elements that manages these interdependencies, driving progress toward a lower-carbon and climate-resilient society.

Uncoordinated, Reactive, Inequitable, Hardly Participative, and Hardly Transparent Governance

In addition to the fragmentation of institutions, there are other significant gaps in the country’s current climate governance: in first place, the current governance tends towards privileging reactive measures, which apply only when the effects of climate change occur (such as droughts, fires or floods) and are focused on responding to the emergency with a short-term perspective. This limits the possibility of conducting actions that have a long-term perspective and that can generate both changes in ambition and necessary efficiencies in order to prepare us today for future changes.

Likewise, we observe a growing inequitable distribution related to both the impacts of climate change and access to the benefits that the Elements provide. This can be seen in: the elevated levels of atmospheric pollution that the so-called “sacrifice zones” experience; in the high energy poverty indicators of some communities; in the risk of fires, floods, and droughts that greatly affect more vulnerable communities environmentally, socially, and economically; and in the concentration of land-ownership and rights to water use.

Furthermore, poorly-effective participation mechanisms, are often late, of a limited scope, and are only of an informative or consultative character. This leads to the erasure of local and indigenous knowledge, delegitimizes their cosmovisions, and does not empower them in the face of the unequal power of giant economic corporations, and generates conflict and a lack of trust between actors.

All of this results in significant deficiencies in the availability, quality or accessibility of data, with respect to hidro-climatic and ecosystem conditions, such as information about property rights, and those required for monitoring and evaluation of management. To the above, one can add the limited use of existing data and the lack of consideration of projections and of future scenarios in the design of public policies.

Climate Governance and the Elements

The future climate scenario requires a transformative change in the governance of the four elements of nature, each of which provides important services and benefits to human societies. In the context of climate change and future climate scenarios, this governance should be in charge of managing the risks and impacts and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in a way that can include major responses in the face of droughts, floods, atmospheric pollution, fires, and the loss of ecosystems, among other challenges. In this sense, it is urgent to advance towards a new model of governance, which we have called Climate Governance of the Elements. This model is situated in just climate action as the central axis for the management of the State, which is aimed towards realizing incremental and transformative actions in order to promote mitigation and adaptation to climate change, advancing towards: a more equitable distribution of costs and benefits; the protection of highly-vulnerable groups; the conservation of ecosystems; and the protection of the interests of future generations, all based on inclusive and supportive procedures for making decisions and assigning and enforcing responsibilities (Hervé, Cordero y Moraga, 2020).

To accomplish this, we propose that the Climate Governance of the Elements supports itself based on three key principals:

  • An anticipatory focus: involves advancing towards carbon-neutral and climate resilient-forms of development, with a short-term horizon, as well as medium-term and long-term horizons, and with a preventative and precautionary perspective, operating with prudence, including when faced with scientific uncertainty.
  • A landscape and socio-ecological focus: drives measures of mitigation, adaptation, and training that are relevant to each territory from a systemic perspective, respecting their process and their own socioecological limits, and in a coordinated way between scales and sectors.
  • A good administration: that is to say an administration that is at once rational, objective, transparent, coordinated, efficient, and effective, and that prioritizes demonstrably more effective and efficient strategies, based on evidence. This involves an ample, opportune, continual, meaningful, transparent, and informed participation by the community, indigenous peoples, and other stakeholders, and transparent accountability on the part of all the authorities.
Recommendations for a New Constitution and for Public Policies

In order to accomplish everything mentioned above we suggest the constitutional establishment of:

  • Just climate action with the axis of the State’s transversal action, accompanied by the precautionary and preventive principles and the principles of territoriality and of socio-ecological focus as a basis for the integrated and proactive management of the Elements.
  • The human right to water which is in good quality and sufficient, and the right to civic engagement, which is effective, ample, opportune, continual, significant, transparent, and informed.
  • The duty of the State’s organs to incorporate climate action in the management of their facilities, and to guarantee a good administration of the Elements (rational, objective, transparent, coordinated, efficient, and effective), beyond incorporating the duty of any emitter of greenhouse gases to take on the costs of preventing, controlling or neutralizing their emissions.
  • Establishing new specific instruments of socioenvironmental management for climate change, such as: the realization of a management unit for the climatic basin [1], the establishment of climate refuges [2], and the granting of extraordinary faculties to the authorities in the face of the proclamation of a state of climate exception. [3]

In addition to the above, it will be necessary to push forward additional actions in all the levels of governance, including, at least:

  • Reform existing legislation in order to situate just climate action as an axis of public action, to dedicate the duties of private and public actors in the sustainable use of nature and its conservation, in addition to the collective right to a healthy environment.
  • Reform and reorient the institutional mechanisms of land management and planning aimed at the integrated management of land, considering when relevant the use of Nature-based Solutions.
  • Improve the availability of and access to information with the goal of moving towards robust decisions based on evidence and promoting climate action.
  • Define instruments of financing, monitoring and evaluation, and accountability dedicated to climate change.
  • Generate institutional conditions that regulate the spaces of civic participation as a structural element in decision-making and management, reducing asymmetries of power.

[1] The climatic basin means a new management entity, of a multi-scale character, whose delimitation includes the totality of the socio-ecological processes involved in the carbon cycle and the effects that climate change generates on the earth and its elements. Defining this entity involves reorienting, articulating, and giving new powers and roles to the mechanisms and institutions in charge of land management and planning with the aim of an integrated management of land, considering when relevant Nature-based Solutions.

[2] Climate refuges are areas that possess a unique capacity to buffer against the negative effects of climate change, to which should be applied a special regimen of integrated management of development and conservation, which guarantees the care and protection of ecosystems and the climate services they offer, based on the best evidence available.

[3] A state of climate exception looks to take all the necessary measures in order to act in an anticipatory way in the face of plausible and severe risks associated with climate change, and with the goal of preventing them, mitigating their effects or promoting a rapid recovery, and effective adaptation.


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