The World Wide Fund for Nature pointed out that Chile uses its natural resources at a rate much higher than that which its ecosystems are capable of renovating, making it one of the 50 least sustainable countries worldwide. Based on the foregoing, this column suggests that the conservation of natural heritage should have particular relevance in the Chilean academic and political discussion, since this constitutes a fundamental factor for the sustainability of our society.
The richness of Chile’s natural heritage is unquestionable. The geographical conditions of the country sustain a unique ecosystem diversity, which has created important historical processes of significance and identity around nature and the national territory. The high rates of endemism in our species (25%) and the peculiarity of their habitats make Chile 1 of the 25 World Hotspots of biodiversity and also the home to 10 Biosphere Reserves. At the same time, this natural richness has allowed the exploitation of raw materials to become one of the most important sectors of our economy, mainly through mining, agribusiness, forestry, fishing and aquaculture. However, sustained economic growth and the increase in demand for goods and services has at the same time brought constant pressure to bear on the country’s natural resources. The established patterns of consumption in developed countries and in the richest strata of developing countries show concrete signs of their unsustainability on a global scale, largely because they do not consider or quantify the associated environmental externalities.
The World Wide Fund for Nature pointed out that Chile uses its natural resources at a rate much higher than that which its ecosystems are capable of renovating, making it one of the 50 least sustainable countries worldwide.(1) This pressure has direct effects on the state of biodiversity and deep sociocultural implications. In our country, 60% of the species are compromised: 3 have become extinct in the wild and 1 permanently, 41 are critically endangered, 45 are endangered and 93 are vulnerable (2). Worse yet, only in the last year, in the region of Araucanía an area of forest has been burned that is equivalent to the combined surface of the communities of Santiago, Vitacura, Las Condes, La Reina, San Miguel, La Florida, Peñalolén, Ñuñoa, San Joaquín, Huechuraba, Central Station and Providencia.
(1) M. Flores, Financial Planning for National Systems of Protected Areas (Arlington: The Nature Conservancy, 2008).
(2) Based on IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2015).
Then, the conservation of natural heritage should have particular relevance in the Chilean academic and political discussion, since it constitutes a fundamental factor for the sustainability of our society. In that sense, the National System of Protected Areas of the State (SNASPE) appears as a strategic organism in the conservation of national biodiversity. In practice, this is the only tool for territorial management of protected areas with presence in almost the entire national territory, covering the protection of 75% of the total area.
But, given the logic of prioritization of governments and parliamentary systems – courteous and obsessed with bonds, votes and those projects that create a lot of talk but little action – the reality of SNASPE is regrettable and injust. According to the most conservative estimates, the value of the annual flow of ecosystem services provided by SNASP (3) is US $ 2,551 million, equivalent to 2.2% of GDP and averaging US $ 170 per protected hectare. This contrasts sharply with the very poor state investment in environmental protection and protected areas, which is equivalent to 0.1% of GDP and 0.03% of annual public expenditure, which averages finally US $ 0.5 per hectare protected.
(3) The S.N.A.S.P, in contrast with the S.N.A.S.P.E, considers both private and state protected areas.
In short, the value of the SNASP annual contribution to the country exceeds 45 times the public expenditure on biodiversity and landscape conservation. This lack of budget is manifested in the fact that a quarter of the protected areas of the system are without effective administration, at the mercy of the exploitation of their resources, hunting and illegal occupation (4).
(4) E. Figueroa, Final Consulting Report. Valor Económico de la Contribución Anual del Sistema Nacional de Áreas Protegidas de Chile y Análisis de su Financiamiento (Economic Value of the Annual Contribution of the National System of Protected Areas of Chile and Analysis of its Financing) Santiago: CONAMA/GEF-PNUD, 2015.
The problems surrounding conservation of natural heritage are complex, and the projections of experts are skeptical about their future in the short and medium term. The lack of coordination between SNASPE and the rest of the territorial management instruments is profound and the financing gaps mentioned above are abysmal if international state investment standards are considered. Considering this context, is it possible to empower local governments to generate in their communities a sense of identity relating to their local nature and landscape elements? How can we generate value around the main conservation tool of the country from disciplines associated with territorial and urban design, and communicate that value effectively? Why do these disciplines not generate territorial management projects that recognize and take care of the significance of the natural heritage that surrounds us and makes communities and nations unique, diverse and sustainable?
Tomás Gárate Silva. Tomás Gárate Silva is an architecture student at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Director of the Fundación Legado Chile, an organization dedicated to the conservation of the country’s natural heritage, and an amateur photographer from the South of Chile.