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Fri. January 27, 2023
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Chile & New Zealand: A Comparative Study in Environmental Policy
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By Matt Josey


Chile’s economy over the past two decades has highlighted the environmental repercussions of business activity and non-renewable energy production. Consequently, various environmental concerns and issues have risen to the forefront of Chilean politics, including but not limited to: renewable energy, greening the mining sector, land conservation and water contamination. The political climate in Chile is currently split between civilian pressure for greater conservation efforts and the private sector advocating for lesser environmental regulation. Federal legislation institutionalized Chile’s environmental policy with the creation of the Ministry of the Environment in 2010. Three of the most pressing issues currently affecting Chile’s environmental policy include (1) an unsustainable rate of natural resource consumption, (2) the social exclusion of indigenous groups in the political process, and (3) a lack of funding of the Ministry of the Environment. New Zealand has found considerable success in resolving these three issues, and thus is a good example for Chile. Following New Zealand’s model, this paper suggests Chile (1) implement a consolidated Resource Management Act (RMA) via cross-coalition collaboration, (2) establish an Office of Indigenous Affairs within the Ministry of the Environment, and (3) invest in renewable energy research and development in order to garner more funding for the ministry.


The Republic of Chile is a thriving state in Latin America, exhibiting sound governance, technological innovation and macroeconomic stability. Chile boasts an estimated population of just over 17 million, and its GDP per capita is almost $19,000, one of the highest in Latin America. The Chilean economy thrives on export-led growth and demonstrates considerable stability with an inflation rate of 3 percent. Chile has historically struggled with a high rate of income distribution inequality, but this statistic has improved in recent decades. This issue still remains a top priority on the policy agendas of most Chilean political parties.

The noticeable correlation between export-led growth and environmental degradation first led Chile to form a domestic environmental policy in the early 1990s, prior to which there was a random assortment of legal statutes and provisions that minimally regulated the natural environment. Chile’s innovation of environmental policy corresponds with the global shift in environmental policy from localized projects to systemic change, as principally exhibited by the 1992 Rio Conference.  Former Minister of National Assets Luis Alvarado explains that initial environmental policy revolved around policy design, drafting and institutionalization. Policies quickly materialized and evolved throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. However, the Chilean government had a tendency to continue designing new environmental policies rather than enforcing policies that were already in existence — a trend that continues to this day. In 2009, Chile enacted the Action Plan on Climate Change and formally created the Ministry of the Environment in 2010 through legislative action. Soon after, the Council of Ministers for Climate Change was created to serve as an inter-Ministry body that includes the ministers of finance, environment, energy, foreign affairs and agriculture as well as the presidential secretariat.

Chile’s multilateral environmental policy platform revolves around the principle of democratic environmental participation according to the Rio Conference. Chile advocates internationally for sustainable development, regional environmental cooperation, environmental education and transparency in environmental management. Its delegations to the United Nations have signed the 1985 Vienna Convention, 1987 the Montreal Protocol, and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. However, Chile has not accepted the Kyoto II Amendment made during the 2012 Doha Round. Chile is also a member of numerous international environmental entities, including but not limited to the Antarctica Treaty System, the International Whaling Commission, the Law of the Sea, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will likely grow to have a very dominant role in Chile’s multilateral environmental policy in the coming years. The TPP is currently in negotiation, having evolved from the 2006 Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPSEP or P4). A draft of the TPP Environment Chapter was published by WikiLeaks in early 2014, and has subsequently received heavy criticism by many prominent non-governmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club, for lack of transparency in treaty negotiations, lack of enforcement mechanisms and the promotion of corporate agenda. Other commentators, however, have lauded the TPP for using a progressive way to promote a strong environmental agenda through trade liberalization. The Brookings Institute released a chapter from the upcoming book “Trade Liberalization and International Co-operation: A Legal Analysis of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement” regarding the environmental provisions of the TPP, in which the author discusses how the TPP has the potential to serve as a vehicle for mutual economic growth and the promotion of environmental responsibility. 

Issues in Chile’s Environmental Policy

There are currently three major problems affecting Chile’s environmental policy: (1) an unsustainable rate of natural resource consumption, (2) the social exclusion of indigenous people groups and (3) a lack of funding for the Ministry of the Environment. Chile’s natural environment has suffered greatly from centuries of natural resource exploitation, and neither environmental policy nor federal legislation have yet to directly address this issue. As demonstrated by Yale’s Environmental Performance Index, there is a lack of proper administration in fisheries and water resources. Chile’s income-progressive distribution of energy consumption has emphasized the need for sustainable sources of renewable energy. However, its reliance on coal-fired power plants starkly contrasts this need. Chile ambitiously aims to reform land and water rights in the mining sector, an industry of particular historical and economic significance. President Bachelet repealed former President Piñera’s “Strategic Environmental Regulation” proposal in early 2014, stating that the execution of such a plan would not be faithful to how it was originally presented to the other executive ministers. The denial of former President Piñera’s “Strategic Environmental Regulation” proposal could indicate instability and inconsistency in environmental policy.

There is an inherent intersection in environmental policy between indigenous relations and public policy caused by the cultural services provided by the natural environment. Chile’s environmental efforts currently suffer from a lack of social inclusion of its indigenous and marginalized people groups. This has particularly impacted the Mapuche, Chile’s largest indigenous group. There are currently an estimated 1.5 million Mapuche living in Chile, who comprise approximately 8.5 percent of the total population. The government and industrial corporations have repeatedly encroached on the Mapuche’s legally allotted reservations in order to extract natural resources and transform ecosystems for industrial means. This represents cultural insensitivity, marginalization and disregard of provisional legal statutes meant to guard indigenous peoples. The Mapuche derive their identity from two sources, the natural environment and their ancestors. Therefore, their exclusion in the political process and the exploitation of their territory has culturally strained the way in which they relate to the rest of Chilean society. 

Chile’s Ministry of the Environment receives a low amount of government funding compared to other Government ministries. In the 2014 fiscal year, the government of Chile apportioned $36,294,871,000 CLP (approximately $61,847,912) to the Ministry of the Environment. Only three governmental entities received lesser funding, and two of those three were the Office of the President and the Secretary of the President. Lower funding reflects areas in which Chile needs infrastructure development and also emphasizes how young the Ministry of the Environment is as a governmental entity. The Ministry of the Environment is responsible for regulating more than 756,000 square kilometers of land area, which encompasses ecosystems ranging from severely arid deserts to glacial ice fields. This proves the ministry’s very difficult and diverse task. The amount of funding it currently receives may hinder effective regulation and environmental management.

New Zealand’s Approach to Chile’s Problems

New Zealand has faced many of the environmental problems Chile is currently facing. Prior to the creation of the Ministry for the Environment and the Department of Conservation in the mid-1980s, New Zealand struggled with unsustainable levels of natural resource extraction. This was addressed in 1991 with the ratification of the Resource Management Act (RMA), which consolidated 78 environmental statutes and regulations into one piece of legislation. Originally considered a triumph of collaboration in environmental policy, the RMA has since been subject to revisions and alterations under changing majority parties, which has led many to be skeptical of RMA’s effectiveness.

Current census results show the indigenous Maori people comprise approximately 15.5 percent of New Zealand’s population. The Ministry for the Environment, the larger of New Zealand’s two environment regulating ministries, actively seeks to include the Maori in the political process and recognizes their place in New Zealand’s natural environment. They do so by closely monitoring the relationship between the ministry and the Maori according to the Treaty of Waitangi, leading negotiations regarding the use of natural resources and implementing agreements and legislations within the Maori iwi (community). New Zealand has thus found considerable success in the social inclusion of its indigenous populace in environmental policy.

New Zealand’s estimated government expenses for the 2014 fiscal year totaled approximately $62.8 billion. The government allotted a sum of $395,288,517, approximately 0.63 percent of its budget, to the Ministry for the Environment and the Department of Conservation. These two ministries are jointly responsible for managing approximately 267,710 square kilometers of land area. In the same fiscal year, Chile budgeted $56.1 billion in government expenditures  and allotted $61,847,912, approximately 0.11 percent of its total budget, to the Ministry of the Environment – almost six and a half times less than New Zealand’s budget to manage a land area almost three times the size of New Zealand.  The much larger budget of New Zealand is mainly due to the fact that tax rates are much higher, and taxes thereby comprise 38.9 percent of government revenues, in comparison to Chile where taxes account for 21.9 percent of government revenues.


This paper therefore proposes the following recommendations for Chile’s environmental policy. 

1. Ratify an overarching legislation for natural resource management: It would be beneficial for Chile to enact an overarching piece of legislation for the purposes of natural resource management similar to New Zealand’s RMA. This would provide concrete guidelines for the government to regulate its own extraction/consumption practices as well as those of the private sector. It would also give two political parties, the left-winged Concertación coalition and the right-winged Alianza coalition, an opportunity to collaborate and thereby prevent future policy instability.

2. Establish an Office of Indigenous Affairs within the Ministry of the Environment: The Chilean government should create an Office of Indigenous Affairs within the Ministry of the Environment. This would be mutually beneficial for both parties in that it would give a voice to the indigenous people in the political process and would also improve the government’s relations with these groups. Establishing such an office might even lead to a tonal shift in the discussion of social inclusion in Chilean politics and could create positive internal pressure for other ministries and government entities to follow suit.

3. Invest in alternative energy research to garner funds for the Ministry of Environment: Chile’s Ministry of the Environment should intentionally focus a portion of its budget on the continual research, development and refining of renewable energy sources. A diffusion of cost-effective and sustainable energy practices through Chile could create surpluses in the ministry’s budget, and the scientific achievements could garner additional funding in years to come. Chile can greatly benefit from its partnership with New Zealand in the field of renewable energy research. Such collaboration can be streamlined by formalizing a bilateral environmental partnership in the form of an Environmental Cooperation Agreement (ECA) to supplement their interactions in other intergovernmental forums.


Both Chile and New Zealand have a reputation for being (relatively) “green” in different capacities. While the cooperation of the two for the purposes of environmental collaboration might be unorthodox, both states have a great deal to offer each other politically, educationally and economically. Chile’s environmental policy is currently facing many issues that New Zealand has faced and resolved in the past, and New Zealand can serve as a viable model for Chile to follow. New Zealand’s environmental policy was not enacted via groundbreaking legislation or a singular executive overhaul; rather, it was gradually constructed and expanded following the creation of the Ministry for the Environment and the Department of Conservation in the mid-1980s. Similar to this time period in New Zealand, Chile’s environmental policy is still in its infancy given that the Ministry of the Environment was established just five years ago. Chile could alleviate its policy shortcomings if it were to proactively apply solutions that New Zealand has adopted in its three decades of concrete environmental regulation. 

Unsustainable natural resource extraction practices could be replaced with a sustainable system of harvest and cultivation following the implementation of a Resource Management Act (RMA). Environmental policy in Chile could be more representative and democratic if its indigenous and marginalized groups were given a voice in the political process. Increased investment in alternative energy research can reduce Chile’s dependence on non-renewable energy production and garner more funding for the Ministry of the Environment. Chile is poised following the creation of the Ministry of the Environment to implement solutions from New Zealand’s model and thereby create leeway to strengthen its domestic policy. 

Matt Josey is an alumnus of the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in International Affairs & Modern Languages (Spanish). Matt studied abroad on Georgia Tech’s Pacific Program, which allowed him to do field research in New Zealand for six weeks. He plans to utilize his degree working in environmental policy in the public sector and is currently working for the National Park Service at the Southeast Regional Office in Atlanta.


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