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  • Alia Rodriguez

Engulfed in Heat Waves- Climate Change in Chile

Image courtesy of Bloomberg

Chile has seen mass destruction, homelessness, and concerns over public health and general well-being, as wildfires, triggered by heat waves for the past five months, continue to engulf numerous regions. The heatwave, which began in December 2022, has caused forest fires, which have forced people to leave their homes, leaving them displaced. While the government of Chile has implemented strategies and employed firefighters to combat the fires, the fires have been exacerbated by dry heat and a 13 year drought that began in 2010. As of February 7, at least 24 people have died. The main regions that have been affected include La Araucanía, Ñuble, Maule, and Biobío. Argentina, Mexico, and Spain sent help to Chile and the Chilean authorities also expressed that other countries, including Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela, claim to be sending aid. Excessive amounts of smoke has led to major public health concerns. Climate change is accelerating around the world, and Chile is no exception.

According to the Climate Action Tracker in November of 2022, Chile’s overall rating is described as insufficient. However, Chile has made substantial improvements over recent years in regards to environmental progress. This could potentially be due to the Climate Change Law which was enacted in June 2022. The law aims for carbon neutrality by the year 2050. Furthermore, the law enables Chile to move towards lower emissions and strengthen its existing plans. Chile also has goals to close “all coal-fired plants by 2030 and has recently announced a plan to ban the sales of combustion engine vehicles by 2035.” This plan suggests how the government in Chile has been taking measures to improve the state of the environment and work to prevent climate change in Chile. Such recent legislation will hopefully help prevent future wildfires and improve other aspects of climate change contributors throughout the country. The fires from summer 2017 emitted the same amount of CO2 as approximately 90% of Chile’s 2016 total emissions. Therefore, these forest fires are not only having drastic consequences on Chile, but also overall greenhouse gas emissions.

In April 2020, Chile revised their Nationally Determined Contribution to reestablish their commitment to combating climate change, especially by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By 2030, Chile aims to “reduce black carbon emissions by 25%....compared to 2016 levels.” According to the World Health Organization, black carbon contributes to air pollution leading to cancers, diseases, and even death. Therefore, Chile’s implementation of goals to reduce such black carbon is imperative to improving both the environment and public health.

A rising concern has been the health of children. The smoke from these wildfires has been impacting the respiratory health of children, and there have been higher risks of bronchitis, pneumonia, and chronic lower respiratory diseases. This research demonstrated how younger children suffer from pneumonia at increased rates when there are increased wildfires. However, the study also noted that, “In the Region of Valparaíso, wildfires did not significantly change the risk of respiratory illness, this could be due to favorable ventilation.” Such a study suggests that improving ventilation could be a potential defensive, reactive measure to aiding public health, while long-term response and solutions to the wildfire situation are being formulated. Public health concerns, like these, demonstrate an imperative need to find solutions and preventive measures for the wildfires in not only Chile, but globally. As the state of climate change worsens, the negative impact on daily citizens’ lives will only be exacerbated.

Citizens have acknowledged their concerns regarding the impacts of climate change in Chile and represent a large majority that are worried about climate change. According to a research study, “Results showed that 84% of Chileans think climate change is happening or will happen at some point in the future, and among those, 89% thinks it is caused totally or partially by human activities; similarly, Chileans believe climate change impacts will be severe or very severe (89.8%), and the country is not well prepared to deal with the problem (95%).” Although some may differ from this, the Chilean public overall demonstrates unity on the issue of climate change.

While the forest fires in Chile are deeply concerning, the government has been working to implement appropriate measures that will help mitigate future climate crises. Considering these past actions, the government may enact further policies to help improve climate change and forest fire prevention. Chile is serving as a positive example in the region of Latin America to promote the enactment of climate change measures, which may encourage other Latin American countries to follow this and enact their own regulations.

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