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No COP in Chile: Matters arising – Bassey

In a short statement dated Wednesday, October 30, 2019, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Patricia Espinosa, notified the world of the decision of the government of Chile not to host the 25th session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference popularly known as COP.

Nnimmo Bassey
Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)

President Sebastian Pinera had earlier announced on Wednesday through the media 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.

The decision not to host the conferences, according to the president of Chile, “… has been a very difficult decision, a decision that causes us a lot of pain, because we fully understand the importance of APEC and COP-25 for Chile and for the world.”

The decision must have been painful to the government of Chile, because nations get to have hosting rights after heft lobbying processes. Meetings of that nature bring an influx of thousands of international visitors, thus markedly impacting the hospitality industry and other economic players in the host nations. They also help to invigorate civil society groups who have the opportunity to network and build movements around pertinent issues.

The decision by Chile not to host COP25 does not mean that the conference will not hold. It simply means that the UNFCCC has to find another host to fill the gap at short notice. It should be stated here that this will not be the first time the COP has 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.

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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.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. If the COP shifts to another country that is less generous with admitting visitors, it will definitely happen that many delegates will be unable to scale the immigration walls the host nation may erect.

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.

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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 intend to 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.

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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.

However, the debacle in Chile is a triumph of popular resistance. That nation has been embroiled in popular uprising and massive repression of dissent over the last two weeks. Indeed, some civil society groups have been brewing a massive global action to demand the moving of the COP away from Chile. 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 model of 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 government to 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.

By Nnimmo Bassey

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