Wildfires in Chile Challenge Its Goal to be Carbon Neutral by 2050

by Vins

“Las preguntas que deja el fuego” (“The questions that the fire leaves”), by Ismaela Magliotto Quevedo and Benjamin Carvajal Ponce Chile, two environmental civil engineers, published February 5, 2024, highlights the devastation and implications of the Chile wildfires of February 2024.

The 2023 and 2024 forest fires in Chile have had lasting and direct impacts on the people of Chile, but the authors mention there are also other people that should be interested in this story, including tourists, legislators in Chile and other countries, business owners, and the whole world because climate change is a global problem. The article presents the framework of a call to action from many of these groups. Although Chile has a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050, wildfires are huge setbacks, exposing bigger problems.

Chile has made efforts to sustain its environment by promoting forestry policies that have increased the rate of forest planting by more than 700 percent, and by promoting clean energy in industrial, residential, and transportation sectors to reduce emissions. Although these efforts point Chile toward its goal of carbon neutrality, wildfires negate much of this progress. 

When there are forest fires, trees release all of the CO2 that they had taken out of the atmosphere back into the atmosphere. Emissions data for the 2024 fires is not yet available, but the article notes that similar fires in 2017, which consumed 460 thousand acres, resulted in a 181 percent increase in annual greenhouse gas emissions. The article points out the limits in relying exclusively on trees to sequester carbon emissions and makes the argument that policy solutions should include other ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Forest fires are a big problem in Chile for a multitude of reasons, according to the article. These include destruction of animal habitat, and the increasing frequency and strength of fires driven by climate change, which have intensified in the past twenty years.

Chile aims to be carbon neutral by 2050. The article cites the Corporación Nacional Forestal (CONAF), a state-owned, private non-profit organization, as the source of much of the information presented. It also cites UTCUTS data (the acronym stands for Uso de tierra, cambio de uso de tierra y silvicultura – in English, Land use, change of use of land and forest), which is a sector of the Chilean economy defined under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, adopted also by Chile’s 2022 Climate Change Framework Law. Chile’s Ministry of the Environment is the source for much of the information reported.

Information about the Chilean wildfires was reported by CNN in Spanish and in English. The Spanish-language article emphasized that the United States offered its support to the Chilean nation during these challenging times, partly because there were similar fires in the United States, in California and Maui, and also in Canada. Both English and Spanish reporting on CNN mentioned climate change as a contributing factor to the fires, but did not make note of the fires as contributing to climate change.

The New York Times published reports on the fires in both Spanish and English, emphasizing the number of dead and missing. The New York Times article also mentioned climate change as a contributing factor to the fires, but not how the fires contributed to climate change.

The Anfibia article, however, goes deeper into the issue, providing a comprehensive understanding of the impact of wildfires on carbon neutrality efforts in Chile. By examining the connection between forest fires, carbon capture, and Chile’s efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, it presents a comprehensive perspective that surpasses the cursory reporting frequently observed in corporate media.

Source: Ismaela Magliotto Quevedo and Benjamin Carvajal Ponce, “Las preguntas que deja el fuego,” Revista Anfibia, March 2023, updated February 5, 2024.

Student Researchers: Kate Stadum, Edgar Morente Garcia, Joseph Pearson, and Noah Rose (College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University) 

Faculty Evaluator: Bruce Campbell (College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University)