Santiago (Sat., 3/14/09) – CONAMA: A Strong Foundation for Environmental Governance in Chile

Chile’s environmental agency takes its first steps.

Unlike the Estados Unidos (USA) where environmental regulation has been in place for decades, Chile is currently laying the foundation for environmental protection and governance. Through the National Environmental Commission known as CONAMA, Chile is beginning to forge its path towards sustainable development. CONAMA has only been in existence since 2004 and the first policy tools they developed passed in 2008 and will be implemented this March. Given their strong economic growth, minimal environmental regulation and many environmental challenges, they have a long road ahead.

Clearly, public officials set out to create an effective organization from the beginning. The cornerstones of the organization’s mission, core values and organizational structure are well developed to ensure success. The mission of CONAMA is to protect the rights of Chileans to live in an environment free of contamination with excellence in environmental quality and conservation of natural resources.  I was intrigued by the motivating factors in the mission statement; CONAMA’s creators placed people first in the endeavor to protect the environment. I believe if Americans connected environmental protection in this way, perhaps many of our environmental regulations may be more successful. Indeed, everyone has a sovereign right to the preservation of ecological systems, biodiversity, and a life of abundant resources.

CONAMA staff spoke quite a bit about organizational structure. We wanted to hear a bit more about specific goals and how they were planning to achieve them, but we understood that the organization was so new perhaps they don’t yet have those answers. At least they’ve laid the groundwork by appointing experts across multiple disciplines to their governing boards.

Given my background in waste reduction and recycling, I was especially impressed the nation has already passed a policy encouraging product stewardship. Their Law for Producer Extended Responsibility will target batteries, oils/lubricants and electronic waste. Fortunately, we now have a leader in the Americas encouraging others of us who have not declared the importance of manufacturer responsibility in a product’s life cycle.

CONAMA has a lot of catching up to do, but they have the advantage of starting from scratch in 2009, knowing what we know now about environmental protection. Very soon, the US may be learning from our Chilean friends as they leapfrog over our mistakes.  The masons appear to have chosen the right bricks for safe blue green home.