In April 2020, Chile officially presented its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the United Nations (UN), updating its commitments on how it will reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the mitigation of climate change, in line with the Paris Agreement of 2015.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its social and economic impacts, Chile, holding the COP25 Presidency, affirmed the country’s intention to engage in sustainable development, thus addressing climate change, beyond the current crisis. The current pandemic put into perspective the urgency of prevention and adaptation actions for the human health impacts of larger threats, like climate change.

Chile’s leading experts in public health and the environment – Dr. Sandra Cortés (PhD), Dr. Patricia Matus (MD, PhD), Dr. Mauricio Ilabaca (MD) and Dr. Marcelo Mena (PhD) – analysed the commitments assumed by Chile, with a focus on health policies .*

The NDC is yet another instrument for us to manage the actions we need to undertake, that could seem distantly connected to health but are known to generate great health benefits”, said Dr. Sandra Cortés, PhD Public Health, researcher at Public Health department, UC, ACCDIS and CEDEUS.

For Chile, focusing climate action on people’s health would be of immediate benefit, and its commitments to tackle climate change are also economically viable, supported  by sound cost-efficiency analysis.

The updated NDC shows some significant improvements, like addressing social differences, which is key in a country with big social inequities and very poor distribution of income. These inequities have been on display  in the social and political discontent of the vast majority of the population since the protests in October, 2019.

Air pollution is one of the greatest public health concerns in Chile, and the country presents a variety of challenges in different geographical areas, with sources of atmospheric pollution such as mining in the North, vehicular traffic in the Center and wood heating in the South. According to a recent study, the risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases increases by 71% when living in the vicinity of a coal-fired thermoelectric power plant. Experts agreed that the current NDC proposal does not go far enough in addressing emissions control, and should aim for the closure of plants that consume fossil fuels.

According to Dr. Ilabaca of the Environment Department of the Medical College of Chile, in the “sacrifice zones” “the constitutional right to health of residents is violated, and would require a doubled acceleration of emissions reduction in order to contribute to GHG reduction and also comply with this constitutional right.”

The water management issue is still one of the greatest challenges for a country like Chile, which has experienced more than a decade of drought. Access to water and the risk of greater emergencies and hydrometeorological disasters have to be tackled, as well as the occurrence of extreme weather events which are due to grow exponentially with climate change.

All commitments should be made compulsory, because currently strategic action plans for the decarbonisation of the energy matrix continue to be voluntary, as well as water management goals.

A restructuring and greater synergy between the sectors responsible for health and environmental policies is also necessary, to improve dialogue and develop integrated solutions so that public institutions can act in complementary ways.

The experts, representing public, private and academic sectors, stressed how they have the responsibility to convey their views and long-term options so policy-makers have all the necessary scientific and economic elements to choose a sustainable and healthy path for the country.

* Patricia Matus, Surgeon doctor, PhD in Public Health, Professor in Department of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of Los Andes; Marcelo Mena, PhD Environmental Engineering, Director, Center for Climate Action, PUCV; Dr. Mauricio Ilabaca, Surgeon doctor, MsC in Environmental Health,  technical secretary at Environment Department of Chilean Medical Association; Sandra Cortés A. Veterinary doctor, PhD Public Health,  researcher at Public Health department, UC, ACCDIS and CEDEUS.

contribution by Milena Sergeeva, GCHA Chile –