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Global climate conference in limbo after Chile cancels plans to host

The United Nations is looking at alternative locations and dates for the summit, which was set to begin in early December.

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Demonstrators gather on a street during protests against the Government of Sebastian Pinera, in Santiago, Chile

People gathered on the streets of Santiago, Chile, on 29 October to protest against government policies and economic inequality. Credit: Alberto Valdes/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Chilean president Sebastián Piñera has cancelled plans to host the United Nations’ annual climate conference that was scheduled to start in December. He cited safety concerns over massive protests against economic inequality that have rocked the country for nearly two weeks.

The decision, announced on 30 October, comes just over a month before talks were set to start in Santiago, Chile’s capital city. Piñera also cancelled an international trade conference, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which had been scheduled to take place there in mid-November.

Spanish president Pedro Sánchez announced on 31 October that his government would be willing to host the climate summit in Madrid. And on 1 November, the UN announced that it had accepted Spain's offer. The dates of the climate conference ― 2 to 13 December ― will remain the same.

“It is indeed encouraging to see Parties and the United Nations at large, working together in the spirit of multilateralism to address climate change,” said UN climate-change executive secretary Patricia Espinosa, in a statement on 1 November.

A bumpy road

“Given the important challenges that Chile faces domestically right now, we fully understand and respect the government’s decision to no longer host COP25 in Santiago,” said Helen Mountford, vice-president for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank in Washington DC, in a statement on 30 October.

Countries attending COP25 were planning on working out the details of implementing the Paris climate agreement ahead of 2020, when they are expected to update their climate pledges under the international pact. As many as 25,000 people from around the world were expected to attend the talks in Chile.

The cancellation was the latest road block for the climate summit. Chile had agreed last year to host the talks after Brazil backed out of holding the meeting. Piñera’s move sparked frustration as well as speculation about what comes next, but many climate observers thought that the UN would ultimately find a venue for the climate talks.

One option under consideration before Spain's offer to host the summit included pushing COP25 to next year and holding it in Bonn, Germany, where smaller climate meetings between the large annual summits occur, says Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a climatologist at the Catholic University of Louvain in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, and former vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Updates & Corrections

  • Update 31 October 2019: This story has been updated with Spain's offer, made on 31 October, to host the COP25 meeting in Madrid.

  • Update 04 November 2019: This story has been updated with the 1 November announcement by the United Nations to hold the climate summit in Madrid, Spain.

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