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Environmental Rights

Global Climate Strike. Santiago de Chile, September 27, 2019. Photo: Codeff,

The climate crisis and climate change are unavoidable truths of what the future looks like for me and for my fellow students. You can't escape it as you scroll through social media, endless posts warning us that the danger is here. A lot of dread and disappointment pulls at me as a college student, watching as legislation fails to be enacted not only nationally but also globally to protect the precious environment we live in. There have been moves nationally to present change in the national sphere, many legislators pushing through legislation such as the Infrastructure Bill that would add things such as incentives for solar energy and a transition to electric power for school buses. Yet, this is a mitigation, a reaction to an already pending emergency. We need to think proactively about the relationship between the people and the environment. The proposed Chilean Constitution of 2022 and the 1999 Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela are crucial in thinking not only reactively but proactively about the way we interact with our environment. These Constitutions tie us to the land we inhabit, the air we breathe, and the water we drink, and make it so harm to the earth, IS harm to our communities.

The proposed Chilean Constitution would have provided a great deal of protections for the environment through its construction of the bond between people and their environment. The Constitution cites clauses such as “guarantees environmental education that strengthens the preservation, conservation and care required with respect to the environment and nature (Article 39)”, “ monitoring of environmental and sanitary risks that affect the health of the country's communities and ecosystems(Article 96)”, and the creation of the The Office of the Ombudsman of Nature to monitor all issues pertaining to environment and its people (Article 149). All of these place special emphasis on the exchange between the environment and the people. With 91% of Chileans believing that climate protections should be a government priority now, the march toward including positive rights in its Constitutions attests to the will of its people.

What was particularly interesting to me was the classification of rivers, wetlands, and other bodies of water as having rights (Article 134). The Constitution also underlines in article 57, “the human right to water and sufficient, healthy, acceptable, affordable and accessible sanitation.” The inclusion of this clause within the proposed Constitution is an attestation of the water rights movements within Chile. Chile has a completely privatized water system that dates back to the Pinochet regime and the Constitution that was drafted at that time. This leaves Chileans paying the highest rate in Latin America for the consumption of water. This has long been documented and the source of many protests before. Such is the story of salt lands and the Indigenous Lickanantay people that live on these lands. The extreme costs of desalinating water, the decreasing levels of soil, the community that is now being split between money and jobs. Moreover, during the “Estadillo Social” in 2019, Chile was meant to hold COP25, an international climate conference but was deferred due to the protests. During what would have been the time of the conference in December, Chileans took to the streets to draw attention to this particular issue of the privatization of water. For Chilean activists, this clause is a takeback of their power and a demonstration of their democratic power.

Venezuela expands upon the relationship between Indiegenous people and the environment. Like Chile, indigenous folks are most often the ones affected by climate change. Venezuela in their 1999 Constitution recognized this fact and the role the state has in perpetuating this harm. Article 120 of this constitution states, “Exploitation by the State of the natural resources in native habitats shall be carried out without harming the cultural, social and economic integrity of such habitats, and likewise subject to prior information and consultation with the native communities concerned.” Indigenous people have consistently organized around their right to the environment. They have been fierce activists from the Bolivarian region, creating blockades and protests to make their presence hard to ignore. In 1998, one such protest organized hundreds of members from the Karina, Pemon, Arawak, and Akawaio indigenous groups blocked the main Venezuelan highway that leads to Brazil from July 27 until August 14, protesting the construction of a power line in the region and increasing destruction of the Imataca forest and demanding that the government respect their ancestral lands. More of their work to include the rights of native peoples can be found in my blog post about Indigenous Rights in these two constitutions.

These two constitutions demonstrate the work of the push by the people to have the environment at the forefront of the issues addressed. They are not only working in reaction to the demands being made by their people, but encapsulating their movements in the foundation of the law of their land. The environment is drawn up as intertwined with the people that inhabit it. In the US, how do we begin to think similarly about our relationship with our environment? To be more purposeful in that relationship, and understand how building upon that causation will create people-centered policy foundations like Venezuela and Chile.



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Atrakouti, A. (2020, February 12). 'Chile has entirely privatised water, which means that theft is institutionalised'. CIVICUS Global Alliance. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from

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Dupraz-Dobias, P. (2019, December 11). Protesters call for climate justice at the peoples' summit in Chile. Truthout. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from

Gurmendi Dunkelberg, Alonso, director. Live to Tell: Rights of Nature in the Forthcoming Chilean Constitution. YouTube, University College London Law School , 17 Mar. 2022, Accessed 15 Nov. 2022.

Minorities at Risk Project, Chronology for Indigenous Peoples in Venezuela, 2004, available at: [accessed 10 October 2022]

Nachmany, Michal & Fankhauser, Samuel & Davidová, Jana & Kingsmill, Nick & Landesman, Tucker & Roppongi, Hitomi & Schleifer, Philip & Setzer, Joana & Sharman, Amelia & Singleton, C. & Sundaresan, Jayaraj & Townshend, Terry. (2015). The 2015 Global Climate Legislation Study - A Review of Climate Change Legislation in 99 Countries (summary for policymakers).

Sengupta, S., & Zegers, M. (2021, December 28). Chile writes a new constitution, confronting climate change head on. The New York Times. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from

Surma, Katie. “Environmentalists in Chile Are Hoping to Replace the Country's Pinochet-Era Legal Framework with an 'Ecological Constitution'.”, Inside Climate News , 3 Apr. 2022,

The United States Government. (2021, December 2). President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The White House. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from


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