Moving COP25, Leaving the People

COP25 chile

Moving COP25, Leaving the People. That  sums up the sudden shift of venue of the climate conference.  With millions of Chileans protesting economic hardship and inequality in that nation, moving COP25 to Spain does nothing to resolve the political quagmire. A week ago, President Sebastian Pinera of Chile announced that his country would not host COP25 in December. Neither will it host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) trade summit they were to host in November 2019.It is not surprising that civil society in Chile rejected the reasons offered by the president for not hosting the COP. The Civil Society for Climate Action insists that the climate summit was an opportunity for the government to take steps that would make life better for the citizens.

The decision by Chile not to host COP25 did not mean that the conference would not hold. It simply meant that the UNFCCC had to find another host to fill the gap at short notice. It should be stated here that this was not be the first time the COP had not been held in a designated venue. In 2017, Fiji was the host of COP23, but the conference took place in Bonn, Germany and not in Fiji. The reason was that although it would have been a perfect occasion to showcase the existential threat of climate change to the small island nation, Fiji did not have the facilities to cope with the requirements of the mammoth conference. Fiji nevertheless brought her atmosphere to Bonn through a number of means, including especially the innovative Talanoa Dialogue that took place in Katowice, Poland during COP24.

Fiji presided over the COP that held in Bonn, Germany, although it was not held on its soil or in its waters. In the present case, Chile is not seeking to host the COP offshore, she has simply reneged on her right to host it. Now Spain has stepped in and offered to host the COP in Madrid.

The Chilean government had gone a long way to ensure a high attendance at the COP. For example, they offered to issue electronic visas, at no cost, to duly accredited participants. Now that the COP is shifting to Spain many delegates may be unable to scale the immigration walls the new host may erect.

We note also that when Chile declared they would not host the COP they did not indicate that they were seeking an alternate host. They simply stepped aside. Will it be legitimate for Chile to preside over COP25 in Spain? On what grounds would that happen? 

We recall that the Secretary General of the United Nations gathered world leaders at a climate summit at the UN headquarters in New York in September 2019. Could the COP not be shelved until 2020? Did that space not provide enough room for climate discussions and decisions? The answer to both questions is ‘No.’ Multilateral negotiations and decisions are made at the COP, not in special climate summits. The September meeting was however very significant as it was the space for nations to report on their readiness to increase their levels of ambition for climate action. To prod nations to step up their intentions, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) published a report titled The Heat is On.

Ms. Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations said of the Summit: “When I look back on this Climate Action Summit, I want us to see it as a sling shot – that helped to change our common trajectory towards sustainability” [building trust] “between this generation of adults and the next – between our children and ourselves – that we are all working together to our fullest potential to tackle the climate emergency”.

That was a pointed statement that should wake up nations hiding behind the permissive Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) allowed in the Paris Agreement. The NDCs allow nations to suggest what level of actions they intendto take. The UNDP report showed that except for countries that have contributed little to the climate crisis, and whose highly ambitious intentions may not necessarily make much impact on the current climate trajectory, the big polluters were content to procrastinate as to when they may take some serious action.

The conclusion is that the updated NDCs the nations will take to COP25, no matter where or when it is hosted, will not provide any reason for celebration with regard to real climate action or finance.

The situation in Chile is a triumph of popular resistance. That nation has been embroiled in popular uprising and massive repression of dissent over the last three weeks. The decision made by the government of Chile not to host the COP has been forced by public pressure. Analysts believe that Chile had been achieving a pyrrhic economic progress built around a modelof deregulated markets and privatized social security services imposed by the previous dictatorship of General Pinochet. While the country recorded increases in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) indices, the levels of inequality in the nation continued to grow.

In Ecuador, popular resistance forced the governmentto halt its march towards the debt trap inherent in loans offered by the notorious International Monetary Fund (IMF). The uprising also forced the government to reverse the increase in the price of gas in the country. The world is shifting into a revolutionary moment, when citizens can point at the direction things should go and not cede their sovereignty to elected officials and private interests. It is in this sense that we should look at the shift of venue of COP25. It may disrupt many plans, but should be seen as a real pointer to the reality that popular action can ensure that the will of the people prevails over the insatiable interests of the one per cent.

While we applaud Spain for stepping in so quickly, we cannot avoid noting that the shift from Chile to Spain without allowing time for reconfiguring participation arrangements by citizens and organizations who may not have access to public funds is very insensitive. There appears to have been no consideration given to the expenditure already made in purchase of tickets, some of which may be nonrefundable, and hotel bookings. What happens to the arrangements made by Chilean civil society to host activities at the Peoples’ spaces? How would civil society groups fund their participation in Spain at such a short notice, especially knowing how difficult it may be to obtain entry visas which were assured with regard to Chile?

We note also that when Chile declared they would not host the COP they did not indicate that they were seeking an alternate host. They simply stepped aside. Will it be legitimate for Chile to preside over COP25 in Spain? On what grounds would that happen?

What is the government of Spain doing to tackle the demands of the citizens that led to the protests in that country? Shifting the COP to Spain does not address the  socio-economic demands of the people of Chile. In fact, as Chile presides over COP25 in Spain it will be sending a disturbing signal that governments are willing to take convenient, face-saving and superficial actions rather than tackling the deep socio-political and economic issues that hurt the people and keep driving climate change.

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Note: This is a variant of an article  issued on 31 October 2019.

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