Chile’s new Climate Change Law: In the Pursuit of a New Development Model

Felipe Massardo Rojas

On June 13, 2022, the Chilean Framework Law on Climate Change was published in the Official Gazette. Its relevance lies in the fact that it will be the first law explicitly dedicated to the climate crisis, addressing some of the main challenges it poses from a comprehensive perspective.

This law creates a regulatory framework that allows assigning specific responsibilities for the implementation of mitigation and adaptation measures, promoting sustainable development, and taking the necessary actions to reduce the country’s vulnerability (considered high due to its geography and ecosystems), while improving its resilience to extreme climate-related events.

Amongst the main elements of the recently enacted law, the recognition of guiding principles can be highlighted. The scientific principle in the decision-making process, and the cost-effectiveness principle, to be applied in the context of the adoption of all environmental measures, play a key role under the new model. The law also includes the principles of equity and climate justice, referring to fairness in the distribution and allocation of burdens, costs and benefits in the field, including the safeguarding of future generations. 

It also enshrines other principles from environmental law (such as non-regression, precaution, prevention and progressiveness of environmental action), and includes the new principle of climate urgency, which makes it imperative to adopt immediate measures to reverse the most serious effects of climate change. 

Following these governing principles, the law creates practical tools. Several climate management instruments are introduced and expected to be consistently applied at different levels. For example, it enshrines carbon neutrality by 2050 (known as the “mitigation target”), establishes sectoral climate change mitigation and adaptation plans (involving national, regional and local authorities), and regulates in depth the configuration of the Chilean long-term climate strategy (following the Paris Agreement). 

Regarding the latter, an essential provision constitutes the establishment by law of the State’s obligation to make the Nationally Determined Contributions in the context of the Paris Agreement, including a procedure and deadlines for the Chilean authorities to do so. 

The climate change law then empowers the Ministry of Environment to develop greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emission standards, as part of the country’s commitments under the long-term climate strategy and its Nationally Determined Contributions. These standards should include, at least, the number of emissions produced, the emission standards to be considered, the territory to which the standards will apply, and synergies with other climate management instruments (in accordance with the principle of coordination that should inform all environmental action).

A key element of the law is the importance given to the citizenry in the context of climate action. In fact, it recognizes the right of individuals and associations to participate in the development, review and updating of climate change management instruments, through the special mechanisms included therein. It also establishes platforms and systems for sharing detailed information on climate change with citizens (following the principles of transparency and citizen participation).

As a novel element, the law also provides for a climate finance strategy to guide the contribution of the public and private sectors towards a low-carbon economy, including incentives for environmental donations and a fund for environmental protection (to finance mitigation and adaptation projects and actions that contribute to addressing the causes and adverse effects of climate change, in accordance with the territorial principle).

Finally, it integrates climate criteria into existing tools, such as the Environmental Impact Assessment System (‘SEIA’) or the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (‘RETC’), improving the current institutional framework and updating the standards to be followed. 

The approval of this bill, after a shorter-than-usual processing before the National Congress, confirms Chile’s strong and decided commitment to address climate change, in an urgent manner. Throughout the processing of this law, several observations were made by members of specialized associations, NGOs, local organizations, experts and citizens, and it was supported by actors from the entire political spectrum, making it a truly cross-cutting effort in the search for a new development model for the country.