Climate Change and Energy

What is climate change?

It is change in the climate that is directly or indirectly attributed to human activities that alter the composition of the global atmosphere and adds to the natural variability of climate observed over comparable periods of time.
Source: Climate Change Convention

What is the greenhouse effect?

The greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon, innate to our planet, that allows life to exist on it. It got its name because it functions like a greenhouse: the solar radiation that passes through our atmosphere (the plastic layer of a greenhouse) and reaches the earth’s surface, is re-emitted by the Earth into space in the form of infrared radiation. However, not all of this energy in the form of heat is lost, as part of it is absorbed by a layer of (greenhouse) gases, which allows the Earth to have an acceptable temperature and facilitates the development of life on Earth.

If there were no gas layer in our atmosphere, solar radiation would hardly be absorbed by the Earth and the world would therefore have an average temperature of about -18°C, which would be a barrier to the existence of life as we know it (see figure).

In the current scenario in which various human activities have contributed to increasing the concentration of these gases in the atmosphere above pre-industrial values there is even less heat loss to space, which means that the temperature of the earth’s surface is progressively increasing. Recent measurements indicate an increase of 1.1 °C over the last 10 years, which threatens to disturb the energy balance of the atmosphere-Earth system. If this situation is not reversed, everything indicates that by the end of the 21st century this concentration of gases will be even greater, and the consequences of this will be irreversible.

Illustration of the greenhouse effect:


Gases causantes del efecto invernadero

Greenhouse gases’ (GHGs) are those gaseous components of the atmosphere, both natural and anthropogenic, that absorb and re-emit infrared radiation. Source: Climate Change Convention.
Natural GHGs are water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4) and ozone (O3), and are known as the primary greenhouse gases of the earth’s atmosphere. It also contains a certain concentration of GHGs of entirely anthropogenic origin, such as halocarbons or other substances containing chlorine and bromine. These include sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs). Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change..

Diagram of Gases:


Global Warming Potential (GWP)
It is defined as the integrated warming effect over time that produces an instantaneous release today of 1 kg of a greenhouse gas, compared to that caused by CO2 (this is conventionally assigned the value of 1). The radiative effects of each gas can be taken into account, as well as the different lengths of time they remain in the atmosphere. Source:


Radiative forcing

It is a disturbance of the energy balance of the Earth-atmosphere system (in W/m2) that occurs, for example, as a result of a change in the concentration of carbon dioxide or in the energy emitted by the Sun. The climate system responds to radiative forcing in such a way that the energy balance gets restored. If positive, radiative forcing tends to heat the surface whereas if negative it cools it. It is usually expressed as a global and annual average value.

Possible causes of radiative forcing are changes in solar radiation or the effects of changes in the amounts of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.

Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Global average radiative forcing (RF) and its probability range of 90% in 2005 for various agents and mechanisms. All of these radiative forcings occur due to one or more factors that affect the climate and are associated with human activities or natural processes.
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation

Human GHG-generating activities

Human activities contribute to climate change. They cause changes in the earth’s atmosphere in terms of the amounts of greenhouse gases, aerosols (small particles) and cloudiness. The largest known contribution comes from the combustion of fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Human activities result in the emission of four major greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and halocarbons (a group of gases containing fluorine, chlorine and bromine), which cause significant changes in long-lived gases, ozone, water vapor, surface albedo, aerosols and condensation trails.

Greenhouse gases and aerosols affect the climate by altering incoming solar radiation and outgoing infrared (thermal) radiation, which are part of the Earth’s energy balance. Variations in the abundance of the atmosphere or the properties of these gases and particles can lead to the warming or cooling of the climate system.
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 


What is climate change mitigation?

It is the anthropogenic intervention to reduce sources or improve sinks of greenhouse gases. Although certain social, economic and technological policies could lead to a reduction in emissions, in the area of climate change, mitigation implies the implementation of policies to reduce emissions and improve greenhouse gas sinks.

Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.. Source II:
IPCC Glossary.


What is climate change adaptation?

It is the adjustment of human or natural systems to new or changing environments. Adaptation to climate change refers to adjustments in human or natural systems in response to projected or actual climate stimuli or their effects that may moderate the damage or take advantage of their beneficial aspects.
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The international response to climate change

To date, there are three legally binding international instruments that promote actions by countries to address climate change. These are the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol, and the most recent Paris Agreement. This section also addresses the 2009 Copenhagen Agreement. While not in force, much of its substance has been considered in developing the Paris Agreement.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The UNFCCC started operating on 21 March 1994. Today its membership is almost universal: the 197 countries that have ratified the Convention are called Parties to the Convention. This instrument, the first in the line of binding instruments on climate change, is the result of the alert given in the scientific community in the late 1980s that indicated an increase in the average global temperature of the atmosphere, but the causes of which were not yet certain.
It is a “Rio Convention”, one of the three adopted at the “Rio Earth Summit” in 1992. Its sister Rio Conventions are the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification, with an intrinsic link between the three. In this context, the Joint Liaison Group was set up to foster cooperation between the three conventions, with the ultimate aim of developing synergies around activities of mutual interest. It now includes the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.
Preventing human interference with the climate system is the ultimate objective of the UNFCCC, and contains three fundamental principles: the precautionary principle (i.e., taking action despite scientific uncertainty about the problem); the principle of common yet separate responsibilities between the parties, which makes explicit a differentiation of actions between the industrialized and developing world; and the principle of supporting sustainable development in each nation party to this Convention.
It also sets an emission reduction target for developed countries. They must return to the levels they had emitted in 1990 by the year 2000 and do so primarily through domestic efforts.
This instrument is explicit in terms of the support that developing countries will need to provide in order to meet their commitments under the Convention. These are basically aimed at developing a GHG emissions inventory with 1994 as a base year, and at evaluating mitigation and adaptation options as long as they receive international assistance. This information will be contained in so-called “national communications”, which have become a more common activity implemented in the developing world over the years. Chile, for example, has already submitted its third national communication.

See these and other documents at Source: Adapted from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.


Kyoto Protocol

Adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on December 11th 1997, it went into effect on February 16th 2005. It is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which commits its Parties by setting internationally binding emission reduction targets. Recognizing that developed countries are primarily responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions into the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, the Protocol imposes a more demanding burden on developed nations under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”.
Source: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change..

The Protocol arose as a result of the First Conference of the Parties in the Convention, developed in Berlin in 1995, when the developed countries themselves pointed out the impossibility of meeting the reduction targets set for the year 2000. General concern was the driving force behind this new instrument, based on the search for greater precision and more demanding reduction targets in developed countries. The idea was also to incorporate more flexibility mechanisms in the fulfillment of these new targets.
Therefore, the Protocol adopted a new compliance milestone, a four-year period (2008-2012), and individual targets for developed countries, which together will lead to a reduction of 5% below each country’s 1990 levels. It also established three flexibility instruments. The first concerns emission permit transactions. The second allows the participation of developing countries in mitigation through specific projects (the so-called Clean Development Mechanism). The third is a joint implementation mechanism among developed parties once again, but in this case through emission reduction projects.

Unlike the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol established sanctions against developed countries (DC) for non-compliance. Developing countries (LDC) have no reduction commitments under this instrument, and only commit themselves to continuing to comply with the Convention.


Since Chile ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2002, it has actively participated in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and has become a major player in projects registered in Latin America and around the world. In 2003, it established the Designated National Authority (AND) in accordance with the CDM modality and procedures. It has a technical committee chaired by the Ministry of the Environment in charge of reviewing and evaluating the background of each project to grant the National Approval Charter (LoA). It also states that project proponents participate in the CDM on a voluntary basis, and that such project activities contribute to the sustainable development of the country.
Since 2003, Chile’s AND has granted National Approval Letters to 151 projects, of which 102 (67.5%) have been successfully registered with the CDM Executive Board. Six (4%) are in the validation stage, 41 (27.2%) have been rejected and two (1.3%) were voluntarily withdrawn by their proponents (Source: 3rd National Communication on Climate Change).
The Ministry of Energy, through the Chile Carbon Price project, conducted an exhaustive analysis of the status and experience of the CDM in Chile. Among its main conclusions, the study indicated that the peak in the annual production of verified emission reduction certificates (CERs) occurred between 2008 and 2009 and declined towards the period of 2010 – 2015, a situation that coincides with the fluctuation in the price of CERs. It also pointed out that the fall in the price of CERs hit the Waste sector hardest, as projects do not receive any additional income from CERs. Only half of the projects have applied for renewal of the credit period.

Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement is based on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is an unprecedented agreement since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol: For the first time it brings together all nations in a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects with increased support to help developing countries do so.
The central objective of the Paris Agreement is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping this century’s global temperature rise well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to strengthen efforts to limit the rise in temperature to as low as 1.5°C. Unlike the Copenhagen Agreement, it is a legally binding treaty that also managed to commit all states parties to take action against global warming. Although not punitive, it requires all states to measure and report on their progress in this area, providing an incentive for governments to comply with their commitments.
It entered into force worldwide on November 4th 2016 and was ratified by the Chilean Congress on January 25th 2017.
From a mitigation perspective, the Paris Agreement plans to have reached the maximum emission level as soon as possible, and rapidly reduce them to zero net emissions in the second half of the century. From an adaptation perspective, the Agreement proposes increasing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change. To achieve these goals, appropriate financial flows, a new technological framework and an improved capacity-building framework are put in place, thus supporting the action of developing countries and those most vulnerable in accordance with their own national goals. The Agreement also provides for greater transparency of action and support through a stronger, transparent framework.
Source: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change..


Chile’s commitments under the Copenhaguen Agreement and Paris Agreement

Pre-2020: Copenhagen Agreement

In 2009, under the Copenhagen Agreement, Chile and other developing nations made voluntary commitments to reduce GHG emissions by 2020. A milestone, considering that only developed countries that are mainly responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, have made reduction commitments.

The Agreement provided for all nations to define their specific national contributions for publication, noting the commitments they were willing to make. Meanwhile, the objective of the Agreement is to achieve, among all the contributions, a global reduction in GHG emissions that will keep global warming below 2° C by 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels.

Chile committed itself to reducing GHG emissions by 30% per unit of GDP from 2007 levels with the possibility of increasing the reduction goal to 35 and 45%, subject to international financing.
However, the Copenhagen Agreement was not ratified by all the countries attending. Furthermore, it was not binding so the signatories were not legally required to comply.


Post-2020: National contribution

The Paris Agreement, unlike the Copenhagen Agreement, is a legally binding treaty, which also managed to commit all states parties to take action against global warming. Although not punitive, it requires all states to measure and report on their progress in this area, providing an incentive for governments to comply with their commitments.

It entered into force worldwide on November 4th 2016 and was ratified by the Chilean Congress on 25 January 2017. Its central objective is to limit the global temperature increase to under 2°C, and even below 1.5°C, compared to the pre-industrial level.
From a mitigation perspective, the Paris Agreement plans to have reached the maximum emission level as soon as possible, and rapidly reduce them to zero net emissions in the second half of the century. From an adaptation perspective, the Agreement aims to increase adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change.

In this context, and after ratification in Congress, Chile committed itself to reducing its GHG emissions per unit of GDP by 30% by 2030 compared to 2007, and to raising its ambition to between 35% and 45% by 2030, subject to international monetary donations. The target considers all the country’s emitting sectors, except for forestry.

Emissions from the energy sector

Around the world

The urgency with which countries are acting to meet their mitigation commitments lies in part in the fact that GHG emissions have progressively increased since the pre-industrial era with a 70% increase between 1970 and 2004. The sector from which the largest increase came is the energy sector with a 145% increase over the period in question.
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The graphs below show the total GHG emissions in 2010, as well as the distribution of these emissions by sector.



Distribution of total GHG emissions in 2010 in five economic sectors: Energy Supply, Transport, Buildings, Industry, and Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU). Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change..



Greenhouse gas emissions measured in giga-tons of CO2 per year in 1970, 1990 and 2010 in five economic sectors: Energy Supply, Transport, Buildings, Industry, and Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU). Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change..


In Chile

The country’s total GHG emissions (excluding emission sources and removal sinks from forestry and other land uses [FOLU] from the AFOLU sector, but including GHG emission sources from agriculture), amounted to 109,908.8 Gg CO2 eq in 2013, increasing by 113.4% since 1990 and by 19.3% since 2010. (See table).



In terms of total GHG emissions by sector, the Energy sector accounted for 77.4%, followed by the Agriculture sector (12.5%), the IPPU sector (6.0%), and finally the Waste sector (4.1%).

The country’s emissions and removals trend for each GHG varies according to whether or not the sources and sinks of forestry and other land uses (FOLU) are included, as their inclusion generates a balance between GHG emissions and removals, especially CO2 (see table). 


Actions from the Ministry of Energy

Energy Policy 2050

In order to achieve the economic and social development goals that Chile has set for itself, it is essential to ensure future energy supply in accordance with the demands that society places on this sector. Citizen participation is a fundamental principle for having a long-term policy that represents all Chileans. Consequently, all actors in society are called upon to be part of the process of defining and validating the country’s energy vision.

The “Energy Agenda” presented in May 2014 by Michelle Bachelet as a roadmap for the development of government actions in this area, established as one of its tasks “to design and implement a long-term Energy Policy with social, political and technical validation”.

Under the framework of this Agenda, a discussion was held that included relevant actors from the public sector, industry, academia, civil society, the regions and the general public in order to ultimately design the country’s long-term “Energy Policy”.

An Advisory Council was formed, led by the Minister of Energy and made up of key actors from the sector, with national and regional representation from various ministries and public institutions, trade unions, civil society and national universities. Technical roundtables were held with the participation of nearly 3,500 people, 150 working group meetings, deliberative events and regional workshops with hundreds of attendees.

The entire process of designing this policy was accompanied by a Strategic Environmental Assessment, the first time it has been applied to such an important policy as the one described here.

Energy 2050

Chile’s Energy Policy, “Energy 2050”, was published on December 30th 2015. It proposes a vision of the energy sector by 2050 that corresponds to a reliable, sustainable, inclusive and competitive sector, with the aim of moving towards sustainable energy in every aspect.

To achieve this vision by 2050, the Energy Policy proposes four fundamental pillars that underpin the long-term vision, allowing for the definition of goals and action plans for the State, the private sector and citizens:




It is on this basis that the various measures and action plans mapped out through 2050 must be developed.

Mitigation Plan

EThe Energy sector’s Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Plan (GHG), the first of its kind in Chile, is a joint effort of the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Energy to address climate change.

The Plan is part of Chile’s international commitment to address the effects of climate change and is consistent with the goals set by the National Energy Policy for 2050. Open to public commentary from March 14th to April 15th of this year, the Plan was developed to contribute to the country’s mitigation objectives, to the provisions of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (PANCC) and to the goals of the National Energy Policy. The document proposes specific measures and time frames for each sub-sector and an economic assessment of the associated costs and contribution to emission reductions.

The Mitigation Plan was open for public consultation from March 14th to April 15th 2017.

For more information and material related to the Mitigation Plan, visit the Related Projects.


Adaptation Plan

The national climate change adaptation plan, approved by the Council of Ministers for Sustainability and Climate Change on December 1st 2014, is one of the targets set out in the National Climate Change Action Plan 2008-2012 (NCCAP). It is the articulating instrument from which public policy on adaptation to the long-term effects of climate change will be defined.

This plan provides the conceptual framework and guidelines for adaptation in Chile, and articulates the sectoral adaptation plans that were committed to in the national climate change adaptation plan, for the sectors defined as a priorities: forestry, farming, biodiversity, fisheries, health, infrastructure, water resources, energy, cities and tourism. The national plan is expected to provide the institutional structure through which the actions of different sectors, localities and regions are coordinated and coherent, considering that adaptation can be carried out at the level of a specific sector, at the multisectoral level, at the regional level or at the cross-cutting or national level.


Carbon price instruments

In order to contribute to and support the fulfilment of greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments, several countries have developed and implemented carbon price instruments.

Today, Chile has a tax on CO2 emissions, the main cause of climate change. The carbon tax directly sets a price on emissions of certain greenhouse gases, such as CO2, or on the carbon content of fossil fuels used by the sources it regulates. The authorities do not set a limit on greenhouse gas emissions with a carbon tax, but it does set a tax rate for them.

Through the Chile Carbon Price project, our country is evaluating options, scenarios and concrete proposals to build a more comprehensive system of carbon price instruments to complement the current taxes in effect.


Other initiatives from the Ministry of Energy

The Carbon Price Chile project is located in the Sustainable Development Division, a division from which the Ministry of Energy is promoting its efforts in the area of climate change management, in alliance with other public agencies and with international support. Both the Energy Sector Mitigation Plan and the Climate Change Adaptation Plan are also part of this area, reflecting the rigorous work Chile is doing to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Chile is also a renewable energy leader. The country receives the highest solar radiation in the world, has a comparatively advantageous wind and marine energy development potential, biogas development capacity and geothermal resources along the length of the Andes Mountains. The Ministry of Energy has a Renewable Energy Division that is responsible for developing policies in the area, promoting renewable energy markets.

In addition to the country’s commitments to climate change, Chile has also set itself goals and targets in terms of energy efficiency, which takes into account the progressive growth in energy consumption. Chile has set itself a savings target of 20% by 2025, aiming at a total saving of 20,000 GWh per year. The Energy Efficiency Division was set up for developing energy efficiency policies, plans, lines of action and standards.