One of the first Chilean environmental laws (Law 3,133, regulating liquid industrial residues) dates back to 1916.

In 1961, the Ministry of Health established a series of standards to prevent harm to human health, such as those related to disposal of garbage and the quality of water and air. Other legislation followed in the 1960s and ’70s, dealing with industrial and mining residues, discharges, and atmospheric pollution. The most important developments in environmental policy, however, have occurred in the last twenty years.

In 1980, for the first time, the environment was included in the Chilean Constitution as an important national interest. The Chilean Constitution (Art. 19.8) states that the individual has “the right to live in an environment free from contamination. It is the state’s duty to guard against infringement of this right and to oversee the conservation of nature.”

In the ’90s, the protection of the environment became an important governmental priority. Prior to 1990, there was only fragmented regulation of the environment. Therefore, it became necessary to review the existing environmental legal regime. In addition, it was crucial not only to create an institutional framework capable of responding to new and urgent environmental challenges, but also to develop a more cohesive and comprehensive piece of legislation. This legislation was aimed at creating a new institution with the authority to regulate across sectors, and to create appropriate instruments for the efficient management of the environment and the adequate protection of natural resources.

To meet those needs, the National Commission on the Environment -Comisión Nacional del Medio Ambiente (CONAMA)- was established in 1990 and, in March 1994, the General Environmental Law -Ley de Bases Generales del Medio Ambiente- went into effect.

The General Environmental Law restructured CONAMA and introduced new instruments of environmental management that had not previously existed: environmental education and research; public participation; environmental quality standards to preserve nature and environmental heritage; emission standards; plans for management, prevention, and cleanup; responsibility for environmental damage; and the system of environmental impact assessment.
Under the General Environmental Law, several new regulations have been established in more than twenty areas, including atmospheric, water, noise, and light pollution.


In 1998, the CONAMA Council of Ministers approved the “Sustainable Development Environmental Policy.” Subsequently, President Lagos’ Administration launched the new “Environmental Agenda 2002-2006 for Clean and Sustainable Development.”

The underlying purpose of this agenda is to achieve a national growth that is sustainable while promoting greater social fairness. It emphasizes the following line of actions:

a) Environmental recovery in large cities (water, toxic wastes, air, chemical release prevention and response, contaminated sites, global atmosphere);

b) Protection and preservation of the natural heritage (strategy and national action plan on biodiversity, goal to protect at least 10% of the most critical ecosystems by 2006, regulation for natural areas on private land, as well as guidelines for the classification of endangered flora and fauna);

c) Modernization of environmental management (control and supervision, decentralization, information, and environmental indicators);

d) Cultural and human environment (environmental education, public-private cooperation, citizen environmental initiatives, incorporating cultural and social aspects in environmental decisions).


The inclusion of environmental provisions in the Chile-United States Free Trade Agreement (FTA) brought traditional cooperation in this area between the two countries to a higher level.

The FTA established eight initial project areas, with on-going activities that will enhance the cooperation on:

a) Development of a pollutant and transfer register;
b) Contamination reduction from past mining practices;
c) Agricultural practices pollution;
d) Environmental inspection and monitoring;
e) Environmental awareness among private sector companies;
f) Alternatives to methyl bromide;
g) Protection and management of wildlife; and
h) Improvement of fuels quality.

In June 2003, Chile and the United States signed an Environmental Cooperation Agreement (ECA). This instrument was negotiated pursuant to the FTA and contemplates additional cooperative activities.

Within the framework of the ECA, a Joint Commission for Environmental Cooperation was established in 2004. In addition, both countries approved a work program for 2005-2006. This plan outlines six areas of environmental cooperation:

a) Capacity-building and exchange of information on strategies and experiences in order to improve the effectiveness of enforcement and compliance with environmental laws and regulations;

b) Encouraging development and adoption of sound environmental practices and technologies, particularly in business enterprises;

c) Promoting sustainable development and management of environmental resources, including wild flora and fauna and protected wild areas;

d) Civil society participation in the environmental decision-making process;

e) Environmental education;

f) Other areas such as environmental health, climate change, natural disasters, and public-private partnerships.


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