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Sergio Andrs Gutirrez Cofr


Chile: what is the biggest sustainable development's challenge in the next

twenty years?.
Chile is located in the south west of South America, it is a long and narrow strip of land
bordering the Pacific Ocean, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. It has around 17.300.000
inhabitants, of which 85% live in urban areas. It has an important climate diversity: in
the north lies the Atacama Desert (the driest place in the world), whereas in the south
there are millenary ice fields. Chile is threatened by multiple natural disasters that
include active volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and floods. It has a democratic
government leaded by the president Michelle Bachelet. As a developing country, Chile
has built one of the strongest and most stable economies in the region, and its
considered a regional leader in human development.
The national context makes the answer to the question in the title of this essay very
complex. The first and basic challenges in human development, economic growth and
relationship between our activities with the environment, have been achieved. So far,
the three areas (economic, social and environmental) that constitute the formal
definition of sustainable development have been carried out independently in its depth
and rate. Each one shows relative success, nevertheless, they fail as a whole by being
disconnected with each other. This poor interconnectedness disables a structural
change and inclusive growth. Therefore, choosing the next biggest challenge involves
deciding the criterion for setting integral strategies.
The local scenario can be synthesized roughly as it follows. First, Chile has a
recognized healthy economy with positive numbers even in periods of recession.
However, it has been achieved with a high degree of economic liberty and without
enough efforts for reducing the wealth disparity. Also, there are problems such as the
dependence of natural resources exploitation, and the unsustainable consumption and
production patterns. Second, in terms of society, the state gives several guarantees to
the people (primary education, human rights), but has aspects with an evident delay (it
can be considered influenced by the constitution created in a context of military
dictatorship). Fortunately, nowadays the number of citizens empowered in topics such
as education and health access, labour rights and same-sex marriage among others,
is increasing. Positive changes through several reforms are imminent. In fact, the
Bachelet government's commitments include tax and education reforms. Last, the
management of environmental issues was institutionalized in 1994 with the creation of
the environmental law. Its integration to other areas has been difficult. Unfortunately,
the nature of the problems in this area produces a permanent sensation that decisions
can be postponed. These conflicts do not look like urgent matters, as major part of the
consequences are not evidenced today. Consequently, the criterion for the State
action, control of private activities and role of the citizenship is under construction.
Pitifully, in Chile the philosophy of "grow first, clean up later" is still present.
During a long period, not sacrificing the economic growth was used as an excuse for
ignoring the environmental problems and postponing the social reforms. The current

state is a vicious circle that it is not incorporating the sustainable conception. I strongly
believe that Chile has to rethink the basis of its economical activities and decide how
the wealth will be distributed equitably, because without that we cannot achieve viable
and bearable solutions.
Therefore, the biggest challenge for Chile in the following twenty years will be to
move from an economy that was an excuse for disregarding some areas of
concern to another that will grant the sustainable development. More specifically,
our future economy has to improve or develop two main aspects. First, our economic
policies must prioritize ending the very high inequality in the income distribution.
Second, it must promote the correct exploitation of the resources setting strict limits
and regulation in all its productive areas.
The main and worst consequence of our poor wealth distribution is the inhibition of
social mobility. In fact, in Chile the differences are made from the cradle. This is well
illustrated by the uneven access to good quality education. Annually, the Ministry of
Education evaluates national students in different grades through a test called SIMCE.
The results reveal a stunning gap between students who live in the wealthiest
neighbourhoods and those who live in an average reality (middle-low class). Later, this
difference is reproduced in the access to the best universities. Indeed, the students
who received a better primary education, have access to better higher education, and
then increase their income in better work positions. The same happens with the next
generation, consequently perpetuating the system. Obviously, it has negative
implications in human development and it endangers the satisfactory fulfilment of any
sustainable effort.
Regarding economic activities, there are relevant modifications that should be
considered. The challenge can be bounded to invert the negative trends related to
energy production and consumption patterns. Certainly, the traditional unsustainable
energy resources (petroleum and coal) have to be replaced by renewable energies. At
the date, Chile has dismissed the nuclear energy due to dramatic experiences
(Fukishima disaster), nonetheless the authorities have announced to move towards
clean energies without defining the way. In the next years the rigorous discussion of
solar energy in the desert and exploitation of water resources in the south is
mandatory, because our current behaviour in energy matters is not considering the
In brief, the challenge for Chile is to modify its economy to promote the
interconnectedness between the areas of sustainable development. For instance, a
better wealth distribution is desirable, as it will improve the human development and
build a fairest society. Equally important, producing money without caring about the
energy production patterns or waste treatment is untenable, it is a damage to the
environment that we cannot tolerate anymore. Although, there is no optimal solution
and some sacrifices must be done, the short term goals will be tuned with the long
term goal establishing convincing basis for sustainable development. From my point of
view, facing this challenge satisfactory will allow Chile to become a developed country.