COP26: Chile's constituent assembly during the climate crisis

Next year, the Chilean people will vote on a new constitution. One thing is already clear: the text will refer to the climate emergency.


By Francisco Parra (Twitter:@frparrag)

18 October is a special date for Chile. Two years ago, a popular uprising began that put words such as inequality and dignity centre stage. On 18 October 2021, having approved its operating regulations in record time, the constituent assembly, created as an institutional solution to the political crisis, began its substantive discussions.

The constitutional convention has one year to offer Chileans a new constitution. Citizens must then decide whether to accept or reject the text of the new constitution in a yes or no referendum.

Despite the many difficulties, the assembly has given clear signs that something new is coming for this small South American country. Just a few weeks ago, and with 137 out of 155 votes in favour, the convention approved a declaration, which recognises that "the new constitution is written in a context of Climate and Ecological Emergency and therefore must keep in mind, in all the commissions and proposals that it prepares, the guarantees of environmental education, prevention, precaution, non-regression, mitigation, adaptation and transformation to face the climate and ecosystem crisis."

The president of the convention, the Mapuche academic Elisa Loncón, assured that this step implied that the assembly must move forward "without turning its back on the earth, on nature, on the beings that live there, because they also inhabit us. It is essential that what we are going to write is based on mother earth."

A group of "eco-constituents" promoted the initiative, with more than 30 representatives of various socio-environmental campaigns.

For the constituent Manuela Royo, a member of the Movement in Defence of Water and Territories (Modatima), Chile’s new constitution "must seek effective and collective adaptation solutions, think about territorial ordering, decentralisation that takes ecosystems into account and is organised around them, consider models of accessible environmental justice, all of which is essential in the state of climate emergency in which we find ourselves."

The convention has taken small but significant steps. When discussing its regulation, a Commission on Human Rights and Guarantees of Non-Repetition acknowledged that Chile had been built on the genocide of indigenous peoples and recognised the climate and ecological crisis as "an act of planetary ecocide, against the entire biosphere and its species."

Two years ago, in 2019, the government of Sebastián Piñera was preparing to host APEC in November and COP25 in December. The social crisis resulted in both events being cancelled. Today, just months before leaving office, the prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation against Piñera for alleged tax crimes and bribery related to the controversial $2.5 billion copper and iron mining project that would be implemented close to the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve. This sensitive environmental area is a habitat for whales, dolphins, birds and Humboldt penguins.

In addition to the criminal investigation, Piñera faces impeachment over the very same deal, new details of which were revealed in the Pandora Papers investigation a few weeks ago. The president is now legally prevented from leaving the country and so will not be travelling to Glasgow to attend COP26.

Francisco Parra is Latin America Programmes Manager at Climate Tracker. After covering three COPs he’s now passionate about sharing his experience with journalists from across Latin America. Passionate drinker of Fernet and Terramotos. Working from Chile. Also speaks Spanish.


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