Chile has established an international precedent by holding public consultations for the country’s contributions to a new climate agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Given that Chilean emissions are low – just 0.25% of the world’s total – it is worth asking what motivated the country to actively develop a national contribution to the international climate agreement. According to the government, one reason is that Chile is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – the losses could represent 1.1% of annual GDP, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). These impacts would not only affect the economy, but Chilean society as a whole.
Due to great social and economic inequalities in the country, the population with the least resources and preparation to tackle climate change will be most at risk for the negative effects of climate impacts. Chile wants to be part of the solution to the global problem, and the first step is to assume a strong climate commitment.
In her speech at the UN climate summit in New York in September 2014, Chilean President Micelle Bachelet announced that her country's contribution to a global climate agreement would be discussed with the people, and promised to initiate public consultation in December 2014.
From the previous June, Chile had already determined that to develop and define a preliminary national contribution (INDC in UN parlance), a high-level political and technical inter-ministerial process would need to be launched. The Council of Ministers for Sustainability and Climate Change – the highest deliberative body for environmental policy and management in the country – is now responsible for making political decisions, while a technical committee led by the Ministry of Environment’s Department of Climate Change and integrated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of Environment and the Ministries of Finance, Energy and Agriculture, is responsible for technical inputs and fundamental INDC elements.
From that point on, an unprecedented decision in the country’s international climate change policy was taken: to submit the technical committee’s results for consultation directly involving the public. Notably, in recent years Chile has gradually opened various public consultation processes, including policies and plans to address climate change within the country. This public process shows that the challenge of climate change is not just the government’s job, but also requires the involvement of all stakeholders and sectors of society. This, however, was the first time that Chile requested the participation of its citizens in defining its national position in international climate negotiations. This undoubtedly marks a distinct position by the current government, and sets a precedent for the country, Latin America, and the world.
To consult citizens on climate issues sets a precedent for Chile, Latin America and the world
By collecting the views of different actors and sectors from the national scene, Chile hopes its contributions are the result of a dual process – political and technical – that carries social support.
Technical basis informing consultation
Chile defined a "blueprint" of their INDC based on national circumstances (social, economic, environmental, and vulnerability to the impacts of climate change) and on many exhaustive studies with valuable information, including: the national inventory of greenhouse gas emissions of 2010; the first biennial update report of Chile; information on vulnerability and adaptation, including the national plan; and other sectoral-specific plans. Some of the most important information comes from the MAPS-Chile project, an initiative of South-South cooperation with a participatory process that involves government, private sector, academia, and several NGOs. MAPS-Chile has generated important inputs for decision-making, such as emission benchmarks, scenarios recommended by science, hundreds of mitigation measures with their percentage of reduction and cost, and macroeconomic models of different mitigation scenarios showing the effects they have on employment and GDP.
This information was used by the technical committee responsible for preparing the draft of the INDC and was based on five pillars: mitigation, adaptation, development, capacity building and strengthening, and technology transfer and financing.
To mitigate emissions, two options based on three scenarios of significant emission reductions created by MAPS were presented. In option A, Chile is committed to reduce its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45% below 2007 levels by 2030. In option B, the country is committed to reducing its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 35 to 40% below 2007 levels by 2030. What is interesting about both options is that, according to projections, while option A provided the best macroeconomic performance, neither option would damage the economy: the 2030 GDP would increase between 1.2 and 7.4%, and employment rates would rise to 6.3%. Below is a graph of options as presented by the Ministry of Environment:
Consultation and next steps
On December 17, 2014, the public INDC draft consultation began as President Bachelet had announced at the Climate Summit in New York and at COP20 in Lima. The process was extended to April 15, 2015 and was directed by the Ministry of Environment’s Department of Climate Change.
The objective of the consultation was to receive proposals from the public and private sectors, civil society, academia, indigenous peoples, and other groups to enhance and enrich the INDC proposal. Chile will submit their proposal to United Nations by the end of June, honoring the commitment of countries to present their contributions in 2015 as part of the negotiations for a new international climate agreement to be signed in Paris.
In order to collect these proposals and observations, the Ministry of Environment created an online form and also accepted written comments in different regional offices.
So that the complexity of the issue would not limit participation, briefings were organized throughout the country to explain the INDC and to disseminate the public consultation process. Briefings took place in the cities of Santiago, Antofagasta, Concepción, and Valdivia (chosen for their vulnerability, resilience, and/or mitigation potential), and additional sessions took place in the regions of Magallanes, Araucania, and Valparaiso given their interest in the INDC draft. Outreach around the public consultation process took place in a total of seven regions.
Now that the period for comment submission has closed, the Ministry of Environment has allocated time to analyze and respond to observations, and will indicate whether or not each could be integrated into the final INDC proposal and the reasons why. It is worth mentioning that the public process was an informative and public opinion consultation model, but neither operative nor binding as some sectors of civil society in Chile are currently asking for.
In this sense, Chile faces a risk that some sectors will underestimate the value of this process given that the exercise of participation and consultation has existed for some 20 years in other environmental instruments – for example: decontamination plans, quality and emission standards, and environmental assessments. Civil society and the private sector are critical of the uncertainty about whether or not sound public proposals will make it into the government’s final decision. This frustration is understandable, though it is not realistic to think that every single proposal could be incorporated into a country’s decision. So while it is true that the Chilean public consultation could be improved with mechanisms to manage expectations or with instruments that offer more inclusive participation in decision-making, it is important to highlight that for the first time Chile’s position on the climate negotiations is really open to debate, and that this is unusual not only in Chile but in the world.
Chile’s next step is the drafting of a new INDC version by the technical committee, which must be approved by the Council of Ministers for Sustainability and Climate Change and communicated to President Bachelet. Afterwards, the Foreign Ministry will formally register the INDC with the UNFCCC Secretariat. To date, the only INDC officially submitted by a Latin American country is Mexico.
Marking a milestone
Climate change is one of the most complex challenges of the 21st Century. All countries and sectors must face it. Chile understands this and their view is reflected in the work carried out within the framework of international UN negotiations. In this multilateral process the country has been active and constructive: working with other partners whether they be developing or developed countries; as a founding member of the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), one of the newest negotiating blocks in the process; and expressing support for a global agreement with binding and universal commitments for all groups of countries.
Through its innovation in public consultation, Chile has contributed constructively to the process of negotiations. This level of openness is an unprecedented step in the region (even in countries which have held them, like Mexico and Brazil) and in developing countries, where the design of climate policies tends to be less transparent.
This milestone in the history of Chilean climate policy was reached when authorities asked about the international climate negotiations at the public level. This is a mark that other countries in Latin America and the world should take as an example and as reference for duplication. It is worth sharing this public experience, since the content of the INDC is not only relevant but also defines the processes and the degrees of societal participation. In addition to allowing countries to draft more solid and consistent INDCs, this would also allow them to arrive at the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris with better tools to defend their national positions.
Looking toward Paris in December 2015, there are still not many countries that have submitted their INDCs. This means there are many who could therefore still involve their citizens in the definition of national contributions, which can serve as the basis of the new climate agreement. Policy-making and firm and long-term measures against climate change – both domestically and globally – require permanent citizen participation rather than sporadic consultations at the will of governments. It is time that citizen action is recognized as a major player in the face of local and global climate change challenges.
You can read Chile’s draft INDC here.