Bulletin Nº1 Chile’s New Constitution and Climate Change | The Climate Emergency


Authors: Pilar Moraga, Andrea Rudnick, Maisa Rojas, Anahí Urquiza, and Laura Gallardo | Editorial Leadership: Dominique Hervé and Pilar Moraga | Editorial Team: Roxana Bórquez and José Barraza.

  1. The Climate Emergency

The progressive increase of the planet’s temperature (around 1°C), generated by the accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, is causing the retreat of ice caps in the cryosphere, the rise of sea levels, changes in precipitation, more frequent extreme events (such as heatwaves and droughts), the propagation of disease vectors, among other challenges (IPCC, 2018). This has caused us to face risks and impacts that affect people, biodiversity, and ways of life.

The present decade (2020-2030) will be decisive for avoiding a point of no return and maintaining living conditions on the planet for present and future generations. It is essential to limit warming to 1.5°C with respect to the preindustrial period. We will make it…if we define and implement actions today to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and establish bases for constructing model, equitable, and resilient societies in the face of the impacts and risks this global phenomenon produces at the national and local scale. We should transform transportation, food production, electrical generation, the construction of streets, bridges, and public works by incorporating technological changes that are compatible with future climate scenarios.

With that in mind, the debate over the contents of a new constitution will occur in the context of an era marked by the impact of human activity on the planet as a result of high consumption levels, the rise in the world’s population, and the intensive use of fossil fuels (Gallardo, 2019).

  1. Chile and Climate Change

Our country is highly vulnerable to climate change. Predictions point to: (a) a significant reduction in water availability and the intensification of droughts caused by the reduction in rainfall, especially in the central-southern zone, from the region of Coquimbo to the region of Los Lagos (Garreaud et al., 2017); (b) heatwaves, principally in the cities of the central valley in the country’s central zone, which can have consequences for public health, in addition to causing fires (González et al., 2020); and (c) the increase of harmful algal blooms in the oceans (Bindoff et al., 2019, Dupar and Pacha, 2019).

These consequences of climate change can affect individual and collective security, the lives of the most vulnerable, and the health and quality of life of the population in general (IPCC, 2018), by putting at risk material goods, infrastructure, services, and the development of agricultural and industrial activities (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2018). In the case of agriculture, for example, evidence shows that climate change will affect the productivity and seasonality of crops, which will bring changes to farming economies and weaken the water security of people and ecosystems (Ministerio del Medio Ambiente, 2013). At the same time, there are projections about the impacts of the lack of precipitation on the mining sector and on hydroelectric generation (Pica-Téllez et al., 2020). For their part, harmful algal blooms, whose recurrence has increased in the last several decades, would have effects on fishery and aquaculture production, and on artisanal fishing (Dupar and Pacha, 2019).

  1. Chile’s Commitments for 2050

Chile is part of the Paris Agreement, which proposes “Reinforcing the world’s response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and of the forces for eradicating poverty”, as well as “maintaining the increase in the average world temperature 2°C with respect to preindustrial levels, and continuing efforts for limiting this temperature increase to 1.5°C, increasing the capacity to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and promoting climate resiliency and low-carbon development, in a way that does not compromise food production and situatesfinancial flows at a compatible level” (Ministry of Foreign Relations, 2017).

In the context of this Agreement, in 2020, the Nationally Determined Contribution was presented, which proposes a goal related to reducing GHG emissions and meeting adaptation commitments (water security, peatland inventories, strategic plans for water resources, the creation of marine protected areas, etc.), thereby leading to the integration of both fieldswith the objective of avoiding contradictions, including an innovative social pillar on a just transition and sustainable development with a focus on gender. This document also highlights increased ambition regarding mitigation by pledging that, from 2025, carbon dioxide emissions will start to be reduced and that, in the year 2030, the use of black carbon [1] will be reduced by at least 25%. This will take place across the implementation of actions defined in the Sectoral Plans (energy, transport, public works, etc.), which are intended to meet the goals established for each sector in the Long-Term Climate Strategy.

In view of implementing these international commitments, we are discussing the Project of the Climate Change Framework Law in the National Congress, while the Long-Term Climate  Strategy will be discussed in a public consultation process.

  1. The Challenges of Writing a New Constitution in the Face of the Climate Emergency

In the face of the current global phenomenon, the State should consider at a foundational level the need to make economic development compatible with a model that is low in GHG emissions and that protects the rights of those threatened by the increase in temperature. On the contrary, it could impede or hinder the country’s ability to meet carbon neutrality and adaptation objectives. These objectives should be established in a new constitution. From the 1980 Constitution until now, the State has had a subsidiary role in the management of ecosystems and elements of nature (air, water, earth, fire), with private actors in charge of taking on important parts of public functions in this fieldand with a perspective focused on individual interests, that is often incompatible with the current challenges that require a focus on intergenerational equity.

In this sense, a first step is to recognize and define the State of Chile as vulnerable in the face of the effects of climate change and that it should adopt measures needed for urgently advancing the construction of a resilient society that emits few GHGs.

  1. Challenges for Public Policies in the Face of the Climate Emergency

The current situation of the climate emergency requires, beyond this recognition, that there are public policy and regulatory instruments that allow for the execution of concrete actions on the part of State organs and other social actors, such as those that are identified below:

  1. The Enactment of the Climate Change Framework Law which gives legal substance to the institutional framework for climate change, establishing clear responsibilities for the sectors and local and regional governments in a context that integrates diverse decision-making actors, such as the instruments for managing climate change and the environment.
  2. To have a Long-Term Climate Strategy that allows the establishment of the sectoral goals related to reducing GHGs (mitigation) and measures that allow for the adaptation of people and ecosystems to climate change.
  3. Elaboration of regulatory reforms in the places needed for executing sectoral measures that allow us to accomplish the goals established in the Long-Term Climate Strategy.
  4. Increase the amount of scientific evidence and incorporate it in decision-making in a way that can better recognize national, regional, and local threats and vulnerabilities, with the objective of considering them in decision-making processes, thereby strengthening resiliency and climate governance.

[1]Black carbon is a contaminant and an agent of climate change derived from the incomplete burning of fuels such as diesel and wood. It is found in particulate matter that we can breathe, thereby having effects on human health.


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