Chile Signals Urgency of Climate Action with Updated NDC

Chile formally submitted its updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) yesterday, making it one of the first countries in the world and, to date, the only one in Latin America to submit an updated climate action commitment as required by the Paris Climate Agreement.

Minister of Environment, Carolina Schmidt; Minister of Energy, Juan Carlos Jobet; and Minister of Science, Andrés Couve, present Chile’s updated Nationally Determined Contribution.

Chile formally submitted its updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) yesterday, making it one of the first countries in the world and, to date, the only one in Latin America to submit an updated climate action commitment as required by the Paris Climate Agreement. At first glance the new NDC shows encouraging improvements on ambition and transparency in comparison to the 2015 version. Equally as important, by releasing its updated NDC now—amidst a global health crisis and lingering social demands at home—Chile has sent an important message to the global community that underscores the urgency of addressing the climate challenge.

While presenting the NDC, Minister Carolina Schmidt recognized that speaking about another issue during the current health crisis could appear out of context. But she noted that the NDC was in fact very relevant since climate change also threatens people and requires a joint and urgent response with concrete actions. She called the NDC “a beacon that can help us orient the social and economic recovery post the Covid crisis with a clear vision of how to do it in order to improve the quality of life of people.” Indeed, investing in solutions that cut climate pollution and build the resilience of communities could help pave the path forward for Chile and other countries. Below is a summary of some of the key elements of the new NDC.


Progress on mitigation targets and emissions peak

Chile’s NDC mitigation goals for 2030 are a milestone towards the country’s longer-term goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. In line with this, the updated NDC moved from an emission intensity-based (tCO2/GDP) target in the 2015 version to an absolute target for removing CO2. In a positive step, the new NDC also includes more ambitious commitments than the ones previously detailed in the draft circulated for public consultation:

  • Absolute, non-conditional reduction of 95MtCO2eq by 2030 (not including the forestry sector)
  • Carbon budget for 2020-2030 of 1,1000MtcO2eq
  • Peak emissions by 2025
  • New commitment to reduce black carbon by at least 25 percent by 2030

This is welcome progress, however, members of the network of local civil society groups for climate action (SCAC) note Chile missed the opportunity to move toward its carbon neutrality goal even more quickly. They point out the commitment for 2030 only represents a 30% emissions reduction and that Chile could have used the NDC update to move up it carbon neutrality timeline to  2040 and speed up the shut-down of its thermal electrics plants to 2030.

Water as a priority area for urgent climate adaptation action

For a highly vulnerable country like Chile, adapting key economic sectors and building the resilience of vulnerable communities is a critical aspect of addressing climate change. The NDC maintains the commitment of updating and implementing the country’s National Adaptation Plan. It also lays out a timeline for completing or updating adaptation plans for eleven priority sectors, developing vulnerability maps, and enhancing adaptation capacities in different regions, among other things.

With Chile undergoing a historic ten-year drought the NDC rightly identifies water resources as a priority area for action. The document highlights eight actions, including, by 2030, the development of management plans for all 101 watersheds, the reduction of non-revenue water (NRW) losses by 25 percent, and achievement of 100% of the sanitation targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which would include adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene access for all and improving water quality by reducing pollution. Given the clear urgency, Chile will need to move more quickly on explicit and concrete solutions for this sector than the NDC seems to outline.

Nature-based solutions and a circular economy as part of the solution

The NDC also includes a new “integration” component that outlines commitments that address both mitigation and adaptation objectives. Specifically, it outlines actions that will help the country transition to a circular economy that minimizes waste and uses resources more efficiently. The NDC also covers a number of commitments related to nature-based solutions (forests, peat bogs, and oceans) that go significantly beyond the original NDC.

On forests, the new NDC effectively doubles the scale of Chile’s previous forest management and reforestation targets and makes them unconditional. It also adds new targets related to forest degradation and landscape restoration.

  • Sustainably manage and restore 200,000 hectares (ha) of native forest by 2030 (equivalent to 0.9 to 1.2 MtCO2eq of carbon capture)
  • Reforest 200,000 ha by 2030, at least half of which will be permanent cover and 70,000 ha will use native species (equivalent to 3-3.4 MtCO2eq of carbon capture)
  • Reduce emission from forest degradation and deforestation by 25% by 2030
  • Develop a Landscape Scale National Restoration Plan by 2021 and include 1 million ha in the restoration process by 2030

The new NDC also addresses emissions from peatbogs for the first time. Specifically, Chile commits to:

  • Prepare a national peatbog inventory by 2025
  • Develop adaptation and mitigation indicators and implement measures to achieve these benefits in five protected areas by 2030

Chile has previously established its leadership on oceans with 42% of its exclusive economic marine zone under some level of protection. With its updated NDC Chile now explicitly integrates ocean protection with climate action by, among other things, committing to the following by 2030:

  • Protect at least 10 percent of its under-represented marine eco-regions, primarily in the central and north of the country
  • Protect at least 20 coastal wetlands by 2025, and at least 10 additional coastal wetlands by 2030
  • Develop and implement management plans in all protected areas created before 2020
  • Assess the mitigation and adaptation co-benefits of various marine ecosystems and implement strategies to leverage them

Climate action based on a just transition and sustainable development

A fourth component of the NDC is a transversal “social pillar” that was added in response to the massive  social mobilizations that erupted in October 2019. As part of this component, Chile commits to guide the implementation of its NDC actions based on the following criteria: synergies with sustainable development goals, just transition needs, water security, gender equity, nature-based solutions, inclusion of indigenous and other traditional knowledge, public participation, and cost efficiency. Specifically, Chile will establish a mechanism to measure, report and verify that these criteria are applied and will finalize a Just Transition Strategy by 2021. This vision, based on equity and justice, will be even more important now, as Chile moves forward and considers how to recover from the disruptive Covid health crisis.

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