Climate change

Why Chile can set an example in environmental protection

While most countries are lagging in meeting their global environmental commitments, Chile is setting a positive example. Its delegation heads to the UN climate conference set for this November with ambitious emission-reduction targets, major green investment plans and a draft law aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050.
Solar-power facility in northern Chile. picture-alliance/dpa/Corpo Comunicaciones Solar-power facility in northern Chile.

Chile is well positioned to enjoy bragging rights at the next global climate conference.

At the upcoming 26th Conference of Parties (COP26), set for this November in Glasgow, Chile can point to three major achievements in fighting climate change:

  • ambitious emission-reduction commitments;
  • a far-reaching draft environmental protection law that sets a specific goal for carbon neutrality by 2050 and
  • a major infrastructure investment plan focused on green projects.

While Chile shows signs of taking its climate change commitments seriously, others are lagging behind their pledges. That is not acceptable. At current trends, the world could see a 3.2° Celsius global temperature increase compared to pre-industrial levels, the UN Environment Programme warned in November 2019. That is a long way off the Paris Agreement’s target of less than 2°C, and preferably less than 1.5°C, by 2100.

A related goal set out in the Paris Agreement is for countries to cut greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions and become emissions neutral – i.e., absorbing as much gases as they emit – in the second half of this century. That objective, too, is out of reach in current. According to a study by statisticians from the Seattle-based University of Washington published in Nature magazine in February 2021, governments’ measures worldwide are simply too weak to achieve the targets.

“To have an even chance of staying below 2°C, the average rate of decline in emissions would need to increase from one percent per year [pledged under] the ‘nationally determined contributions’, to 1.8 % per year,” the authors say.

The purpose of COP26 – the next plenary session of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – is to put those efforts into higher gear. Delegates from nearly 200 countries are expected.

Three-part plan

Chile’s delegates will bring good news to COP26:

  • First of all, in its required filing of its climate change commitments – a document called the “Nationally Determined Contributions” (NDC) – in April 2020, Chile set ambitious goals for emissions cuts. It pledged to keep GHG emissions below 1,100 million tonnes CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2eq) between 2020 and 2030, and below 95 Mt CO2eq in 2030. The document also commits to cutting black carbon emissions by at least 25 % by 2030 compared to 2016 levels. The term “black carbon” stands for solid particles emitted during incomplete combustion. Chile is the second country after Mexico to set a specific target for cutting black carbon, according to the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based think tank. Significantly, Chile’s NDCs include social commitments linked to decarbonisation. The “social pillar” focuses on improving water and sanitation systems and providing clean energy, all of which will particularly benefit disadvantaged population groups.
  • Second, Chile’s government proposed a draft climate change framework law early last year. The bill, now before the Congress, sets overall national GHG emissions limits for 2030 and 2050. It also sets emissions-reductions goals for each sector, which must be met by 2030, and assigns responsibility for specific targets to specific agencies. Most significantly, the bill sets a goal of making Chile carbon neutral by 2050. If approved, this would make Chile the first developing nation to pass a law that sets such a target. The bill could be passed before COP26.
  • Finally, Chile’s government adopted a “just and green” plan for recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic as well as from the country’s political upheaval and from an ongoing drought. The plan was launched late last year and includes a series of large investments in decarbonisation projects. Among other provisions, the plan calls for 30 % of funds allocated to the Environment Ministry under the pandemic-recovery plan to go to projects that promote environmental sustainability. A separate “green hydrogen strategy” seeks to create 100,000 green jobs and invest $ 200 billion in green energy projects over the next 20 years. Together, the various elements of the “just and green” plan could cut Chile’s GHG emissions by 25 % by 2030 compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Chile’s share of global cumulative CO2 emissions in 2019 was 0.17 %, according to “Our World in Data”, an online publication. Its emissions are small, compared to other nations. But judging from its recent initiatives, its environmental ambitions are comparatively large.

Liu, P. R. and Raftery, A. E., 2021: Country-based rate of emissions reductions should increase by 80 % beyond nationally determined contributions to meet the 2 °C target. Nature Magazine, February 2021.

Waldo Soto Bruna is director at 2811, an environmental civil-society organisation in Germany, Chile, and Colombia.

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