The climate summit was supposed to take place in Chile, but massive protests and riots forced the country to pull out. Spain’s president jumped in, saying that Madrid can save the conference and host it from 2-13 December (as initially planned).
Violence and climate
Every year, world leaders meet under the auspice of the UN in what is called the Conference of Parties (commonly referred to as ‘COP’). This is the event that led to the Paris Agreement. It’s supposed to be a meeting where parties assess progress in dealing with climate change, discuss new solutions and frameworks to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and to decide how to mitigate the effects of climate change.
This year’s event, however, is plagued by misfortune. The conference was supposed to take place in Brazil, however, newly elected president Jair Bolsonaro withdrew from hosting the event — sticking true to his “South American Trump” nickname.
The conference was then moved to Santiago de Chile, but this also wasn’t meant to be. Unfortunately, the protests in Chile — massive, violent, and far from being resolved — forced the country to also withdraw from hosting the event. Scores of people have been killed and injured in recent weeks following the riots on social and economic inequality. With only a month to go, the situation seemed dire.
Thankfully, Madrid was able to take the responsibility of hosting the conference on such short notice. While certainly not ideal, the conference can at least go on with the initial schedule, although it has been moved halfway around the world. After a tense few days, the UN has ultimately confirmed that COP 25 will move to Madrid, Spain, and will not have to be scaled down or canceled.
A rocky start
The conference underwent major issues and it hasn’t even started yet. To say that it’s up to a rocky start seems like a clear understatement. But are there reasons to be optimistic?
It seems like a lifetime has passed since the Paris COP 21, although it was just four years ago. The world met with unprecedented impetus back then, as political leaders gathered with the goal of developing a robust and reliable agreement. While far from being perfect (and not as ambitious as many had hoped), the Paris Agreement did offer a platform that countries could work on. It was drafted with great efforts, not in the least from John Kerry, then US Secretary of State under Barack Obama. But as Obama was replaced in office by Donald Trump, this seemed to cut some of the wind beneath COP’s wings. Trump announced that he will exit the Paris Agreement (although he cannot formally do so until after the next elections), and the US administration has done much to reduce its environmental efforts.
Other countries have also failed to provide much-needed leadership, and despite some laudable programs and significant action, almost every country in the world is lacking behind its Paris Agreement targets. It was hoped that the COP in Chile could prove to be a turnaround moment, and this is still possible — but for now, the prospects don’t exactly look all that good.
It’s time for action, Chile’s logo for the event stated. But if even finding a location is so problematic, it gives few reasons for real optimism.
What about Greta?
No doubt, there are many people who will be upset by this change — and as a journalist who tends to buy tickets two months in advance, I can definitely empathize — but one name stands out on this list: Greta Thunberg. She traveled from Europe to the US by boat, as she refuses to fly due to the high levels of emissions from air travel. So she took a long trip by boat… for naught.
The young activist took to Twitter, saying that as of now, she has no way of returning to Europe in time for the COP.
It’s unclear whether she will make it in time for the event — though Spanish officials have pledged to give her a lift. The move also affects a group of 36 young climate activists crossing the Atlantic by sailboat to Chile. Four weeks into their voyage, they were shocked to hear that the event was moved to the other side of the world.
“After the initial shock and sadness the news brought, everyone came together determined to continue what we started: putting the climate impact of aviation on the international agenda,” read a statement from the group.
This year, COP is definitely off to a rocky start. Hopefully, the negotiations can make it all worth it in the end. Hopefully.