• New Chilean Constitution to Overhaul Domestic Air and Water Regulation

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New Chilean Constitution to Overhaul Domestic Air and Water Regulation

Sep 02 2022

On July 4th 2022, exactly one year after the constituent assembly first convened, President Gabriel Boric received a draft of Chile’s new constitution. Shortly, the text had been translated into a dozen languages to be poured over by journalists, politicians and intellectuals all around the world. The response was, for the most part, ecstatic, with an open letter declaring the document a “new global standard” signed by a vast swathe of world-renowned economists and social scientists, including Thomas Piketty, Jayati Ghosh, and Gabriel Zucman. Indeed, Luc Lavrysen, President of Belgium’s Constitutional Court, has noted that if Chile’s new Constitution is approved, it would be the most advanced in the world in matters of environmental protection. 

This praise stems from the fact that the draft constitution explicitly accords rights to nature, including an inherent right to exist, which no other rights can impede. These protections make the state liable for all sorts of environmental harm, including pollution and ecosystem destabilisation. For instance, the draft builds on nature’s rights to enshrine human rights to clean air and more generally, to live in a healthy environment. The document also establishes broadly-defined natural commons, which will include both water and air, to be maintained in viable form for present and future generations – it’s largely this principle of long-term custodianship that has environmentalists around the world so exercised. Since, in keeping with this principle, the Chilean state will be responsible for securing the integrity of the nation’s ecosystems, by preserving, for example, watersheds, glaciers, permafrost, and oceans, the excitement of environmentalists registers the fact that these commitments represent a legal requirement to fight climate change.    

Now, it’s important to note the manner in which the state will be enabled to enforce all of this, because the Chilean state is almost completely renovated in the draft constitution. In contrast to the mostly centralised, senate-based authority that has governed Chile since the ascendancy of General Augusto Pinochet, the draft’s vision is of a ‘regional state’ composed of relatively autonomous regions and communes. Building on the establishment of regional governorships, the creation of Regional Assemblies will further strengthen the infrastructure of participatory democracy in Chile, enabling wide-spread engagement in plebiscites, referenda, and consultations. 

The Chilean electorate will go to the polls on September 4th.  

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