In Chile we have been waiting for more than 15 years for Congress to advance a glacial protection law. In a climate change context, all scientific backgrounds tell us that the main impact in Chile will be water stress, and in large proportion, due to the impact of climate change on glaciers, on which our freshwater availability depends directly. Still, and although it sounds unthinking, today glaciers can still be destroyed, affected and even constitute the right to take advantage of them.
We have just lived a historical plebiscite, where the vast majority of Chileans approved a structural change to the foundations of the development model, which destroys the environment and reflects inequities and injustices that became socially unsustainable. Access to, enjoyment and care of our common property is a central theme for a new constitution. The demand to provide us with security in access to water is a fact found in different surveys, where the vast majority point out to be concerned and aware of this issue. However, those who have led the status quo have for 15 years denied the progress of a project that protects glaciers, even this week deferring the vote on this project for more days. Once again, the Mining Council, represented as a trade union or the Institute of Engineers in Mines, presents the same arguments that are now inexplicable to common sense.
It is therefore relevant to challenge legislators and review what we expect them to have in mind when making a regulatory decision to protect glaciers, even though it impacts mining activity. This requires a baseline analysis budget. Mines and waters are common goods, therefore the State has a leading role in determining the collective interest in allocating to private people, either as the owner of the mines or as administrator of the waters belonging to use and enjoying the country.
To this day mining is an economic activity that has been lifted with a lot of public incentive. We have bet on the development of a mining country: concessions, tax exemptions, subsidies, reinforced regulation at constitutional level, until the legal benefit of not paying for the water they extract for their operations; that is, free water for miners from the highest peaks, affecting the birth of the basins, without knowing the dimension of what is extracted, nor how this impacts the nascent.
For its part, the Chilean water management model gives its allocation in absolute terms to the market. With few rules that safeguard the public interest, access to water, people or ecosystems are not prioritized, and glaciers are not even recognized as strategic ecosystems to maintain the safety of our water system. Thus, in Chile it is possible to destroy them, although scientific approximations estimate that glaciers would contribute up to 60% of river flows in times of drought, precisely in those regions that house most of the national population.
True, the glacier protection law will impact mining, specifically the one that destroys glaciers. Perhaps this is the first step in a shift in an economic model that is deeply intensive in the use and extraction of common goods. With very few environmental limits, the sustainability of the model is even called into question by bodies such as the OECD it held in the Economic Study on Chile (2018), which “to sustain growth, Chile must diversify its economy into non-natural resource activities.”
Mining activity and incentive should be reviewed in the light of the climate and ecological paradigm. True, every public regulatory decision impacts, and that is where we must decide what is best for collective well-being, thinking about public safety in a profound and sincere way. The climate emergency must prompt us to demand that this begin now, with a glacial protection law for Chile, which will undoubtedly be the initiative that will protect life in this context of climate change.
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