Has Chile cancelled COP25? I try my best to explain

Last night the Chilean President “suspended” COP25. This has left most observers thinking “what does this mean?” I thought I’d take a little time to explain what I think this means in general, and then what it means for us. 

First, here’s the official announcement

Since then, the UN body responsible for managing the Climate Talks sent an official note to observers highlighting that Chile has “made the difficult decision not to host COP in Chile”.

1. Does this mean the COP is cancelled? 🙅‍♂️No. 

Chile is simply the host of an annual Climate summit. The summit rotates its host each year by regions. It was Latin America’s turn and Brazil initially wanted to host it. Then Bolsonaro happened, and Chile and Costa Rica competed to take over. It was then decided that Costa Rica would host the Pre-COP (just happened) and Chile would be the host of the major conference.

Cancelling this late makes it very very hard to find an alternative before the end of the year, but the UNFCCC will be under a lot of pressure to use their budget this year. The budget is donated by member countries, who have annual donor budgets. 

There is a precedent to suspend to the next intersessional period (which happened in COP6) where a conference would take place in May/June, but this wouldn’t be preferred by the UNFCCC, who know there are a lot of hard negotiating topics to figure out before 2020.

2. Did we expect this to happen? No. 🤷‍♀️

While we were monitoring the situation in Chile and looking on in utter disgust with how the government was responding to protests, we believed everything was going according to plan. We did put a hold on booking further tickets and planning events for the last 7 days, but were about to restart that process.

Even yesterday, Tais Gadea Lara reported that the UNFCCC believed plans were still going ahead.

“We have received assurances that the Government of Chile has taken internal measures to restore order in Santiago and other parts of the country, and we are hopeful for a rapid and peaceful resolution. We continue on track with our planning for COP 25, with the safety and security of all participants a top priority”

Late yesterday I also heard from members of the Chilean planning team that the conference was still moving ahead. That was 2 hours before Chile’s President changed plans in what clearly was a Presidential decision. 

3. Will it move locations? Probably. 🙆‍♂️

Alternative hosts already suggested include Norway, Geneva and New York. However, since the COP is meant to be in Latin America, it will be up to the regional grouping first. The Pre-COP was already in Costa Rica, and Costa Rican friends seem sceptical they would want to host it again. 

I also doubt another Latam country will be able to host on such short notice. The region is undergoing a lot of political challenges, and alternative. You need a big city, with good public transport and lots of Hospitality options.

Buenos Aires (Argentina), Lima (Peru), Medellin (Colombia) or Cancun (Mexico) or Montevideo (Uruguay) would be good alternatives, but politically it is unlikely that any of these countries would be interested in hosting on such short notice given domestic challenges.

3. What about those other Latin American Options? I doubt it. They all have their own challenges to overcome at the moment 🤔

  • Peru has dissolved its Congress and is preparing for elections in January 2020. Peruvian civil society would probably be thrilled to have it again after successfully hosting Cop20, but the political situation in the country wouldn’t allow it.
  • Argentina has an inflation rate of 55% and the country is in foreign debt crisis
  • Mexico is currently led by Lopez Obrador who hasn’t shown strong signs of engagement on climate politics. 
  • Colombia is dealing with 2 million Venezuelan migrants that have crossed the border since the political crisis heated up in Venezuela.
  • Uruguay is in the best economic position to host it, and did host regional COP preparation meetings for Latin America in March. Montevideo has hosted a big WHO conference in 2017, and a cruise industry conference happened September this year. But they just had an election without a clear winner, and with a run-off election scheduled November 24th, they’ll simply be too late to decide if they want to host or not. 

4. Could it move to Europe? 👩‍✈️

The COP in 2020, is due to be in Glasgow, with the UK as the host. As such, I doubt an alternative European country will be the replacement host, but it’s not impossible. So chances are it might be in Bonn, though this leaves a big budget hole, as host countries usually pay between 50% to 70% of the event budget, with the benefit being all the tourism dollars they might earn.

The only European options that are really likely might be in Bonn (Germany) but this would be with a much smaller budget, hosting capacity, and comes with a range of visa challenges for those hoping to enter the EU. 

As a result, we have heard initial rumours that Chile still want to be the “host” but for the event to happen in Bonn, Germany. The information note sent by the UNFCCC today noted Chile’s decision was “not to host the COP in Chile”, which still opens up the option of hosting it at an alternative venue.

Bonn is where the UNFCCC has its offices and is often used as a “neutral” venue. In 2017, this is where Fiji “hosted” the COP23. According to the UN’s own information page; “The COP meets every year, unless the Parties decide otherwise. The first COP meeting was held in Berlin, Germany in March, 1995. The COP meets in Bonn, the seat of the secretariat, unless a Party offers to host the session.”

5. Will it change dates? Maybe, but there will be pressure to stay in early December. 🎅🏽

The budgets of the UNFCCC, large NGOs and National budgets usually need to be spent by the end of the calendar year, so that new budgets can be planned in January/February. What isn’t spent often needs to be given back. There will also be a lot of big environmental meetings in 2020, including an intersessional in Bonn in May/June, a big Biodiversity meeting in China in October, and then a very important #COP26 in Glasgow in December. 

Most governments shut down in late December, and hundreds of diplomats would be resistant to having negotiations around Christmas time. January would be reasonable, but that would be require a budgetary flex that would be tough for many countries and donors to manage. 

6. If it happens in Bonn, what would be different about it? 🤦‍♀️

Bonn is a very different venue, and travelling to Germany comes with a lot of challenges for participation. The venue at Bonn is much smaller, and the UNFCCC would need to act fast to balance the accreditation challenges that this presents. Hosting it in Bonn also presents challenges for accommodation, but they have managed this in the past.

The biggest issue with hosting the conference in Bonn will be the potential impact on participation from African, Asian and Latin American countries. Flights from Latin America to Germany are some of the most expensive flights in the world. Visas for Germany and the EU are also rarely processed in under a month in many Asian and African countries, without special intervention.

Considering the challenges of changing the dates, and geography, it is my best bet that we might be looking at a smaller COP in Bonn, but with a significantly reduced opportunity for civil society engagement in the conference.

7. What does this mean for me and Climate Tracker 🙏

At the moment we aren’t exactly sure. We don’t expect it to be cancelled, but will update you as soon as we have clarity on where and when the conference might be.

We had an amazing team of reporters ready to go to Chile from all around the world. We hope they will still be able to report on this critical moment for the climate negotiations, and will do everything we can to get them there…wherever that may be

Special thanks to Andrea, Tais, Arthur, Diego, Dizzanne, Anna and Lina