Chile, European Union Region · 3 June, 2021

Sustainability as the foundation for an environmentally-aware rule of law

The fifth round-table meeting in the “Chile-European Union Dialogues” webinar cycle on development and sustainability addressed the state promotion of sustainable economic development and associated rights, which are considered to be key issues in Chile’s constitutional process.

The process of drafting a new constitution in Chile offers a unique opportunity to promote a sustainability model that formally seeks a balance between the economy and the environment, preserving the country’s resources while promoting the employment market and social cohesion.

In order to foster this dialogue and share experiences, the European Union Delegation in Chile, the Chilean Chamber of Deputies, the Chilean Agency for International Cooperation (AGCID) and the Library of National Congress, supported by the European Union’s EUROsociAL+ programme, have held two sessions on “Development and Sustainability”. This webinar cycle is part of the “Chile-European Union Forum”, within the framework of the constitutional process, which seeks to exchange European experiences regarding both this process and other essential matters such as social cohesion, access to a welfare system and the guarantee of fundamental rights, showing the lessons learned from drafting various different European constitutions.

Ricardo Celis, the Deputy and President of the Chamber of Deputies’ Environment and Natural Resources Commission, who took part in the opening of the first session on 25 May, stressed that achieving a balance to reactivate the economy while preserving natural resources “will be one of the main issues to be advanced by the Convention’s members”. The constitution therefore needs a development model that integrates “a perspective regarding social cohesion, inclusion, gender focus and respect for the customs of our native peoples” and that takes into account “the scarcity of water resources and the lack of laws that regulate them”.

The first session on “The Promotion of Sustainable Development by the State: the Economic Model and Social Cohesion” saw the participation of Fernando López Ramón, Professor of Administrative Law at the Universidad de Zaragoza in Spain. He said that, compared to the current economic model, sustainability means taking into account the deterioration in common property, in particular, nature. This was the basis for his proposal, which opened with a distinction between environmental rights and the principles of sustainable development, before examining the adoption of a “social and sustainable or ecological Rule of Law” that combines the social advances achieved so far with environmental, sustainability and ecological rights.

Kerstin Krellenberg, Director of the Urban Studies Group at the University of Vienna, Austria, agreed with López Ramón that “life in our contemporary society has to quickly undergo significant changes and transformations” in order to face current environmental problems, which have already had an significant impact on our lives and to which are added other challenges such as demographic or digital issues. He argued that an important step could be to “anchor the issue of sustainability in the Constitution” as a key issue due to the numerous actors involved in integrating the affected perspectives that will contribute to future sustainable development.

Marcelo Mena-Carrasco, the former Minister of the Environment, affirmed that the anthropocentrism and individualism that guide the current Constitution have led not only to the climate crisis but also to a significant loss of biodiversity. Human beings have changed the face of the earth and citizens have recognised this crisis as being fundamental, showing that the Chilean people are in favour of an ecological Constitution or one that has green elements, as demonstrated by the high number of candidates who have included these matters in their proposals.

Pamela Poo Cifuentes, Director of Advocacy and Public Policies at the Fundación Chile Sustentable, highlighted the inescapable need to take “the climate and ecological crisis in which we find ourselves” as a context. She reiterated the need for the new Constitution “to not be exclusively anthropocentric” since, in her opinion, “nature can sometimes establish itself as a subject of rights”. She also stressed that the effectiveness of environmental protection requires “the territorial decentralisation and multi-nationalism” that the Constitution should establish.

In the second session, which was opened by Deputy Sebastián Álvarez, a member of the Chamber of Deputies’ Environment and Natural Resources Commission, the rights related to sustainable economic development to be established by the new Constitution were discussed.

As the experts pointed out, sustainability has multiple facets which make the agreement or balance on which it is to be built even more complex. Among them, two specific perspectives were addressed during this session: the technological impulse and the recognition of the right to free development of the personality and the fundamental rights related to information, presented by Professor Joe Cannataci, Director of the Department of Information Policy and Governance at the Faculty of Knowledge and Media Sciences, University of Malta and currently the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy. The problem posed by climate and energy challenges was also discussed by Miren Sarasíbar Iriarte, Professor of Administrative Law at the Universidad Pública de Navarra, Spain, for whom climate change is “one of the main potential dangers for human health around the world along with poverty and hunger”, requiring the intervention of the legal system “to control and reduce high pollution quotas”.

Chilean experts Pablo Badenier Martínez, a marine biologist and former minister of the environment, and Francisco Agüero Vargas, Director of the Centre for Regulation and Competition in the Law School at the University of Chile also took part in the debate.

The former minister of the environment, spoke about the characteristics that the specific public policies that are to be adopted should have in order to influence sustainability, highlighting decentralisation and participation as central elements. He also referred to the inclusion of new voices in the debate, including the productive sector, arguing that deliberation on sustainability issues cannot be seen as exclusive to certain sectors, such as the environmental sector.

Francisco Agüero mentioned the abuses that harm sustainability and how greater public and private control could, in a future constitution, contribute to alleviating them. He proposed the inclusion in the new constitution of greater participation, effective protection mechanisms (not necessarily judicial) and the formal recognition of the protection of consumers and users as a fundamental right.

Country: Chile, European Union Region
SDG: Affordable and clean energy, Sustainable cities and communities, Responsible consumption and production, Peace, justice and strong institutions, Partnerships for the goals
Policy area: Democratic governance policies