CURRENT STATE OF GLACIER PROTECTION LAW
Since 2006 there have been initiatives for the creation of a Glacier Protection Law, which have failed mainly due to the lack of support from the presidents who have governed since then. Despite this, on July 4, 2018, Senators Girardi, Allende and Órdenes presented a draft Law on Protection of Glaciers, with Bulletin Number 11.876-12.
After being approved for processing in 2018, the new project is under review by the Senate, specifically by the Mining and Energy Commission, this because the law may affect the interests of both state and private mining companies in the country.
The project has six articles, which are in charge of: Object of protection, Definitions, Legal nature (what would be understood as glaciers in the chilean law), Scope of application of the law, Prohibited activities, Sanctions for infraction of the law and finally its validity.
- Object of protection: This is the scope of the law, being the protection of all glaciers, periglacial environment and permafrost.
- Definitions: Here the project defines what is a glacier, periglacial environment and permafrost. At this point, there is a difference between what the original project considers glacier with respect to what is indicated by the President of the Republic, that glaciers smaller than one hectare are not considered glaciers for the purposes of this law, unless they are already registered in the inventory of the General Directorate of Waters.
- Legal nature: Glaciers are national assets for public use, which for their value and environmental function are protected for conservation purposes, cannot be owned by people of any kind.
- Scope of the law: The law will affect all glaciers, absolutely all of them, regardless of whether they are within private, public, protected territory or not. In this aspect, differences also appear with the Executive Power (President of the Republic) since, it pretends that only those found within National Parks and / or Reserves of the Virgin Region fall under absolute protection, allowing the intervention of the other glaciers that do not are within the aforementioned protectied areas.
- Prohibited activities: Activities that may affect its natural condition or functions, which imply its destruction or transfer or interfere with its progress, are prohibited. At this point, the Executive Power indicates that certain activities could be authorized on glaciers, through permits granted by State bodies such as the Environmental Assessment Service and / or the General Water Directorate.
- Penalties for breach of the law: Faced with the violation of this law, penalties from lowest to maximum prison are established, plus fines of 100 to 1,000 UTM.
- Validity of the law: At this point it is established that when the future Glacier Protection Law comes into force, all activities that are affecting glaciers and their periglacial environments must cease and require authorizations from the State to analyze whether the Activity is or is not in accordance with the Glacier Protection Law. In this last point, contrary to the proposal of the senators already mentioned, the President of the Republic suggests that the State organs (Superintendence of the Environment) within the term of two years of entry into force of the Glaciers Law, request to the holders of activities that affect glaciers to elaborate a report about the current state of them and, by virtue of this report, offer protection to the intervened ice body.
It is evident that today we urgently need legal protection for our glaciers, the climatic emergency that we are experiencing, manifested as a mega drought, that affects our territory day by day destroying its ecosystems and affecting the lives of thousands of people, especially to the rural world of low resources.
The original project offers total and complete protection, dignifying glaciers, giving them the importance they deserve, in perfect harmony with what citizens are currently requesting, in contrast to the indications of the President of the Republic who is seeking a diminished protection to the ice bodies that our territory possesses, with an incredible blindness to the current situation of our country. We are in an unprecedented emergency and decisions must be made as soon as possible, the total protection of our Chilean Glaciers must be now.
René Hernández Tapia, Lawyer for the Chilean Glaciers Foundation.
Cover photo: Top of the Hanging Morado Glacier with the Loma Larga and Cortaderas glaciers in the background, Metropolitan Region. By José Pedro Pinedo.