Philosophers and scientists might disagree in many things, but today they are both certain of something: climate change is real and it is bound to affect how people live and survive in the planet. As temperatures throughout the world go up and down and plants and animal species perish, governments have been slow to respond to what many believe is humanity’s biggest challenge.
Climate change can be traced down to many factors, but chief among them (or at least very near to the top) is the use of non-renewable energies such as carbon. While the right-leaning governments of some of the most powerful countries in the world such as the United States and Australia remain sceptic and unfazed about the clear and present danger of climate change, other smaller nations such as Finland and now Chile are taking huge steps towards a carbon neutral future. They know that the time to act is now or there might never be another chance.
So Chile plans to be carbon neutral by 2050: the clock is ticking.
Chile is now spearheading efforts coming from the developing world to relinquish the use of coal to generate power. Even is the South American country is still coal-dependent, it has set an ambitious goal for the next 30 years that would overhaul decades of non-renewable energies.
It might sound simple, but it is far from it. Becoming carbon neutral implies the refurbishing of enormous infrastructures, acquiring new equipment and rolling out a nationwide network of energy distribution and storage. But the Chilean government, even in the current climate of social unrest, is taking a big step in making carbon neutrality a national priority.
In a column written by Carlos Barría, Head of Prospective and Regulatory Impact Analysis, Ministry of Energy, the government states that Chile believes that Climate Change (CC) is real and that both private and public sectors need to work hand in hand to dramatically reduce emissions. Chilean president Sebastián Piñera can be blamed for many things, of course, but we gotta recognize that he has been a fierce advocate for actions that address climate change.
The Chilean government is aware that climate change affects those that are the most vulnerable.
Chile’s capital Santiago is experiencing unprecedented levels of pollution and droughts in rural areas have affected farmers and communities. Climate change has exacerbated social inequality worldwide. It is clearly a matter of class and power: those with the economic means are often unwilling to change their business models, even if this means that literally the whole world will suffer.
This is why Chile’s 2050 objective is groundbreaking, particularly coming from a Global South country. Barría’s column continues: “We also know that CC is unfair and most vulnerable affects the most vulnerable, increasing inequalities. Chile is a country vulnerable to the CC, we know that. In addition, during the last few months we have been able to clearly show that economic development alone is not sufficient: it is required to be sustainable, that is, to consider the social, environmental and economic in a comprehensive way.”
We really hope that these are not only empty words and that changes in government do not shift public spending away from the many initiatives that will need to be put in place if 2050 brings a huge reason to celebrate.
But how do they plan to achieve carbon neutrality?
The government has set out to implement changes in five different areas, according to the column: “sustainable industry and mining, sustainable housing and public-commercial building, coal-mining plant removal and renewables penetration, electromobility mainly from the public system and methane capture in landfills, change of use of nitrogen fertilizers and capture of methane in animal aging.” Each one of these measures involves considerable investment. But can we put a price on the future? Chile is already leading the way in solar energy farms with enormous facilities in its desert. Only time will tell if the objectives are met.
The announcement comes as Australia, another Southern Hemisphere country, is literally burning and many blame climate change.
As you read this, an area almost as large as the whole if Ireland is burning in Australia. The increased heat caused by climate change and strong winds have triggered bushfires that have already killed people and about half a billion animals. The federal government refuses to address this as a climate change issue and Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been blasted by the media and the public for his lack of leadership in a time of distress. Maybe Australia, a country that relies heavily on mining, can learn from Chile? We would certainly hope so.
After worldwide protest, Indigenous leader Alberto Curamil has been acquitted of charges related to his actions to stop the construction of a dam on a sacred river. Curamil, along with his co-defendant Álvaro Millalén, would have faced 50 years in prison for “raiding a compensation fund,” “gun theft,” and “illegal possession of weapons.” If it weren’t for the four international environmental and legal nonprofit groups who advocated for Curamil and Millalén, it’s likely that the case wouldn’t have received international pressure from the public. The judges assigned to the case unanimously decided to acquit both of all charges last Friday, but that’s not often the case.
The criminalization of environmental defenders, who are often Indigenous leaders, is on the rise in Latin America.
Alberto Curamil’s efforts have earned him this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize, often considered the “Green Nobel Peace Prize.”
CREDIT: @JAIMECUYANAO / TWITTER
Alberto Curamil is an indigenous Mapuche and Lonko (traditional leader) to his people. The Mapuche are the largest indigenous group in Chile, their name translating to “people of the land.” The Mapuche view the natural world around them, including rivers and forests, as kin to their brothers. The Mapuche have long been victimized and criminalized by the Chilean government. In the late 1800s, the Chilean army was tasked with invading their land to privatize and sell it to individual owners. The government forcibly stole the Mapuche land and would go on to privatize water in the entire country.
In the last decade, Chile’s minister of energy announced a project that would include building 40 dams on the Mapuche’s rivers, two of which would be in the heart of their community. While the project would generate more energy for the country, it would irreparably harm the riparian ecosystems. Alberto Curamil, 45, has dedicated his life to protecting Mapuche rivers and preserving the Mapuche native language of Mapudungun. He formed a coalition with other community members, academics, environmental organizations and launched a massive public, media and legal campaign against the projects. For his work, he earned the 2019 Goldman Prize, also known as the “Green Nobel Peace Prize.” The government acknowledged his work with criminal charges that would effectively mean he’d die in prison.
Police accused Curamil of disorderly conduct and beat him while he was in custody.
CREDIT: @RAYBAE689 / TWITTER
According to the Goldman Prize organization, “police arrested Curamil and two other Mapuche leaders and accused them of disorderly conduct and causing public unrest for organizing protests. Police beat Curamil while in custody, badly bruising his face. Police also attacked his pregnant wife.” Still, his legal battle with the Chilean government proved fruitful. Two years after Curamil was arrested and beaten, his continued campaign yielded a victory: Chile’s Third Environmental Tribunal ruled that one of the two dams would be canceled because the government violated its own laws to consult with the Mapuche or environmental experts on its impacts.
Two years after the victory, police arrested Curamil once again in what many believe was a frame-job to take Curamil out of the picture while Chile approved another hydroelectric project on the same river.
CREDIT: @TWEETLIAM / TWITTER
Curamil was arrested in August 2018 after an “anonymous tip” connected Curamil, Álvaro Millalén, Alberto José Cáceres and Víctor Llanquileo Pilquimán with a $76 million peso robbery. Curamil has spent the last 15 months in Temuco prison awaiting trial. He wasn’t even able to attend his own awards ceremony to receive the Green Nobel Peace award. His daughter, Belén, 18, went to accept the award on behalf of her father, who she called a “political prisoner,” according to NBC News. Many believe the firearms “found” in his home were planted given that his DNA was not found on the weapons.
“I am very happy because we knew that both Alberto Curamil and Álvaro Millalén were innocent,” Curamil’s daughter, Belén, told press outside the courtroom that finally allowed Curamil to walk free, according to NBC News. “If they were imprisoned for so long, it is because they raised their voices and fought for our territory, for the freedom of our ‘mapu,’ the freedom of our rivers and the freedom of the Mapuche people.” Curamil’s advocacy for the environment as inadvertently spurred another advocacy in his daughter: to decriminalize environmental human rights defenders.
Belén has spent the last 15 months of her father’s imprisonment to speak out against the rising criminalization of indigenous leaders for defending their land. In September, she spoke in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the topic.