Political scandals aren’t the only thing weighing down the Chilean economy these days. Climate change is challenging everything from the country’s wineries to mines to energy supplies. But its very problems could provide opportunities for growth and advancement.
While charges of political corruption have embroiled President Michelle Bachelet’s government amid her efforts to battle inequality, the economy has presented its own challenges as mining investment has dwindled, wineries are facing a drought to equal California’s and energy costs have risen.
Hydroelectric production is down thanks to the eight-year-long drought, and that’s sent Chile’s power costs surging to the highest level in Latin America. Not just vineyards are threatened, as the water available for irrigation dries up, and without access to water, mines are having trouble running their equipment. That’s slowed copper production, bringing further bad news to an already-slowing economy.
Floods from torrential downpours in March did their own damage, shutting down mines that were operating in desert areas and damaging fruit crops as well as causing landslides. However, it’s an ill wind that blows no good, and while these troubles haunt some business leaders and government officials in Chile, others are seeing opportunities in the need for desalinization plants and clean energy production.
Acciona SA, a Spanish company that develops clean air, water and wind projects, is predicting that the need for water in Chile will lead to a strong demand for desalinization projects. Not only Chile’s copper mines are in need of water to function, but its cities need reliable supplies of potable water, and Acciona intends to step into the breach, planning to build desalinization facilities to supply those needs.
Mining companies are being encouraged to foot the bill for desalinization plants, which will enable expansion of their operations—particularly in the Atacama Desert, where the Collahuasi mine has the potential to become the largest mine in the world. The Chilean government is hoping to ensure a supply of clean water to consumers, while making the mining companies provide their own through desalinization projects.