Chile, the designated host for this year’s UN climate change conference, has said it would not be able to organise the December event because of political unrest at home. Spain has stepped in and offered to host it on the same dates, December 2-13. Spain’s offer was accepted on Friday evening, and Madrid now faces the herculean task of making arrangements for the two-week event, which has over 20,000 delegates and attendees every year.
The year-end conference, called COP (Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), have been held since 1995, and never been postponed.
COP25: The event
The signatories to the 1992 UNFCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) meet to discuss and decide on steps that countries need to take to fight climate change. This will be the 25th edition of the meeting, hence COP25. It is the same meeting that, at COP3, delivered the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the first international agreement to fight climate change. The Kyoto Protocol was later deemed to be inadequate, and after several years of negotiations, COP21 in 2015 delivered the Paris Agreement.
In subsequent years, countries have been trying to finalise the rules and procedures that will govern the implementation of the Paris Agreement. One of the most important tasks at the upcoming COP is to complete the negotiations over the rulebook.
Hosts by rotation
The venue for the COP meeting is rotated among the five UN-identified regions — Africa, Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Caribbean, and Western Europe and Others. The countries in the region have to propose a candidate, and a host is usually decided at least two years in advance. If no one else agrees to do it, Bonn in Germany, as headquarters of the UNFCCC secretariat, has to step in and host the event.
The rotation cycle has not been followed very strictly. The first and second COPs were both held in western Europe (Berlin and Geneva), and so were the fifth and sixth (Bonn and the Hague). After the 2012 COP in Doha, the event has not returned to Asia. That is because Fiji, the host in 2017, lacked the resources to organise an event of this scale; as a compromise, the event had to be held in Bonn under the Fijian presidency.
Even before the ongoing unrest, Chile had been a reluctant host. It had agreed to host the event after much persuasion, and Santiago could be named the COP25 venue only towards the end of COP24 in Katowice, Poland, last year. Chile had been arguing that as hosts of the Asia Pacific Economic Conference this year, it had to organise year-round meetings, including leaders’ summit in November, and that it would be difficult to organise another big event in December. Those APEC meetings too have been put off now.
The only other contender from the region to host COP25 was Costa Rica, but it lacked the resources. And UNFCC was not very enthusiastic about another event at its headquarters.
The host city incurs huge expenditure on the event, not all of which is reimbursed. Apart from the over 20,000 participants, the city has to make arrangements for visits by heads of states and governments, and other personalities. Side events and demonstrations invariably come with the conference, and the host city has to brace for such disruptions for more than two weeks. The event does help local economy, and tourism, but many countries do not see that as adequate incentive.
There is another reason why some countries do not seem very enthusiastic about hosting the event. The host country presides over the conference, and as such is expected to demonstrate leadership in taking individual steps to combat climate change. For countries with smaller greenhouse gas emissions, this is not much of a problem, but such expectations explain why the US, China or Russia have not shown much interest in hosting the event. Neither have countries like Japan, Australia or Canada, generally considered climate laggards. Japan hosted the 1997 event that produced the Kyoto Protocol, but it also happened to be the first country to walk out of it in 2011. Canada hosted it in 2005. Australia, which too withdrew from Kyoto Protocol, has never hosted it. Spain will now host it for the first time, and so will the UK, in Glasgow next year.
India, the third largest emitter, hosted the 2002 COP in New Delhi, much before climate change became this big.
The European Union, which has a relatively strong climate change action plan, has hosted the most COP editions — 11 of 24 COPs, with Madrid now the 12th of 25. Germany and Poland have been hosts three times each.