Could Madrid Host COP25? 2 key hurdles to leap first

Last night, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and UN Climate Chief Patricia Espinosa broke the news that the Spanish capital Madrid, had made a “generous offer” to host the UN climate talks in lieu of the Chilean suspension only a day before.  

But before anyone gets too excited, there are 2 key hurdles that need to be passed, both within the UN, and in Spain.

The announcement 

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera broke the news when he announced that he had received what he called a “generous offer” from Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, that he “hoped…represented a solution”. 

This sense of hope was reiterated by Espinosa, who noted that “we are hopeful that the COP Bureau can consider this proposed solution as soon as possible.”

Does this mean Madrid Hosting COP25?

Likely. The Spanish capital would be a great logistical compromise over a Bonn COP. It would save almost everyone in the Americas the hassle of visas applications, and flights would be a lot cheaper. Chile would still be the official host, and I’ve already received a lot of positive feedback from negotiators who might feel a little more excited about Madrid compared to Bonn.

In their statements confirming the move, both Patricia Espinosa and Pinera have highlighted that the Spanish made a “generous offer”, which hints at the promise of taking on on some of the bill. The city has a great reputation for hospitality and a large conference centre called Ifema, which is right next to the airport and has a metro line (L8) that leads straight to the city centre.

What happens Next

What is the COP Bureau?

The COP Bureau is a 12 member panel of UN veterans, and negotiating facilitators. There are 2  representatives for each UN region, and the group usually only decide administrative matters. The panel is regionally representative, but is currently made up of 5 white men and only 2 women. It’s President, is Poland’s hop-skipping Michael Kurtyka, who famously jumped from the stage at the end of the UN negotiations in 2017 in Katowice.

Both women are from the Caribbean, and include Lois Young from Belize and Una May Gordon from Jamaica. With Ian Fry from Tuvalu and Amjad Abdulla from Tuvalu also on the Bureau, small island countries make up 4 of 12 representatives.

However, Ms. Young and Ms. Gordon also represent the Latin American and Caribbean regional grouping known as GRULAC. The other Bureau members are from Egypt, Iran, Russia, Eswatini, Pakistan and Norway. While this is reflective of UN regions, there’s a clear European and small-island skew which you might imagine would be relatively open to Madrid’s offer.

However, Latino insiders have told me that GRULAC is where the potential conflict might lie. The regional grouping has traditionally been split down the line of economic ideologies. While there haven’t been any clear signals that Venezuela or Cuba would oppose the move to Madrid, the decision may not be as simple as it may appear to most outsiders.

Saying that, Spain’s hosting might be especially attractive to Bureau President Kurtyka. Poland’s big push at COP23 was around the concept of a “just transition” and Spain is currently the only country in the world with a federally funded Just Transition plan. As WRI reported, The country has put aside “€250 million ($286 million) to support mining regions where nearly all coal mines will be shut down over the next decade.”

When might it meet?

Last night in a twitter exchange, Michal Kurtyka announced that he had called for an “emergency meeting” of the COP Bureau. He also responded to a question about whether they could meet as soon as today with; “yes we must do it”.

Where will they meet?

If Kurtyka is serious, it has to be an online meeting. He’s currently in Warsaw opening the 3rd General Assembly of the Copernicus Climate Assembly. Ms. Una May Gordon is in Jamaica, attending a Water and Adaptation conference. Georg Børsting, who represents Norway on the Bureau is in Oslo.

There’s little chance of them all flying in, so it looks like an online meeting, I’m guessing mid-morning Americas time Friday. If they can’t manage it then, we might not hear until early-next week, making it a long weekend for COP followers.

Saying that, Bureau member Paul Watkinson reiterated Kurtyka’s push for urgency yesterday, noting that the Chilean suspension “complicates things but I am sure we will find a way and finalise quickly the work we must deliver”

So is that the only hurdle?

No. Spain is also due for its 4th election in as many years on November 10, and it seems it could be split between far left and far right political parties. Each of the last 3 elections have led to short-lived governments who haven’t been able to make political compromises. 

In its latest opinion poll, Euronews reports that the Spanish Centre for Sociological Research points to a win for the the Spanish Socialist Party, if they can form what has historically been a challenging coalition with Podemos or right-liberal party Ciudadanos.

*As of this morning, Pedro Sánchez was the only candidate who had confirmed his government would host COP25.  Since then, the leader of right wing PP has also confirmed Madrid would host the talks under his government. So as long as there is a clear victor, it seems the Spanish government would be happy to accommodate the conference. Though this hsan’t been the norm in the last 3 elections.

Regardless, the new government won’t take over before December 2nd, when COP is due to begin.

What does this all mean?

My best guess is that Madrid will host the COP. If the COP bureau doesn’t like Spain’s offer, they will have to revert to Bonn, which wouldn’t be a crowd-pleaser.

I would expect that Espinosa to reach out to the other Spanish political candidates for an informal nod of confidence, but regardless, the election shouldn’t directly affect the COP, as Chile will still be the acting President of the negotiations, and Madrid will simply act as the stage.

As predicted yesterday, this will still make it very difficult for civil society participation from Africa and Asia, but will make things much easier for participants from across the Americas compared to Bonn.

Saying that, civil society onlookers may not see Spain as too different to Chile right now. Both have seen repressive governmental responses to peaceful citizen movements for more representative democracies. I expect this similarity will not go unnoticed.

*This article was amended from an earlier version to incorporate the Vice-Presidents of the COP Bureau, and updated to add the support for COP25 by right wing party, PP.