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Madrid steps in after Chile becomes too hot for climate summit

08 November 2019


Rescue workers search for casualties last week at the site of a landslide, caused by heavy rains, in the town of Bafoussam, Camroon. At least 42 people were killed

Rescue workers search for casualties last week at the site of a landslide, caused by heavy rains, in the town of Bafoussam, Camroon. At least 42 peopl...

The location for this year’s global climate-change summit has been switched to Madrid at the last minute, after the expected host country, Chile, pulled out because of anti-government protests in Santiago (News, 1 November).

There were fears that the meeting, known as COP25, would be postponed; but the Spanish government stepped in to provide an alternative venue. The talks will be held from 2 to 13 December, as originally scheduled.

The last-minute change means that Madrid has less than one month to put in place arrangements to receive thousands of delegates from nearly every country in the world. The host country would normally have more than one year to prepare.

The Acting Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, celebrated the news on Twitter: “Spain is already at work to guarantee its staging of COP25. Our government firmly keeps its commitment to lasting progress and a just ecological transition.”

Spain goes to the polls in a general election on Sunday, 10 November; but the main opposition leader, Pablo Casado Blanco, of the conservative People’s Party, said that the issue of the environment was not one of left or right, and committed his party to hosting the talks if they won.

The short notice will likely have the biggest impact on delegates and civil-society members from poorer nations, who will need to rebook flights and accommodation, and apply for new visas.

Tasneem Essop, executive director of Climate Action Network International, which represents NGOs in more than 130 countries, said: “We hope all steps are going to be taken to make access to this COP fair and inclusive. It is important that there is the full participation of climate activists and observers from different parts of the world to COP25, where important negotiations on the Paris Agreement are due to be undertaken.”

The change of venue has caused a problem for Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who began the climate school-strike movement, and refuses to travel by air. She is in Los Angeles, having sailed across the Atlantic, and was planning to make her way to Santiago.

She posted an appeal for help on social media: “It turns out I’ve travelled half around the world, the wrong way. Now I need to find a way to cross the Atlantic in November. If anyone could help me find transport I would be so grateful.” The Spanish Environment Minister, Teresa Ribera, responded to say that her government would try to help.

Although the summit will take place in Spain, it will still be led by the Chileans. The chaotic circumstances of the summit, as well as the civil unrest in Chile, might mean that more input is required from the UK’s diplomatic service to ensure a smooth transition to next year’s talks, which will be held in Glasgow.

This week, President Trump formally began the process of withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, which would make it the only country to turn its back on the global climate accord. The formal process takes a year to complete, which would mean that the US leaves the day after the 2020 presidential election. All the Democratic candidates have promised to rejoin immediately if they win.

Paul Vallely

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