On the morning of October 30th, almost exactly a month from my intended departure to Santiago, Chile for COP25, the world woke up to the news that in the face of widespread civil unrest, Chile would no longer be hosting the conference.
Only days after the cancelation, Spain offered and was approved by the UNFCCC to host the conference in Madrid on behalf of Chile. It is truly impressive how expeditiously and successfully the conference was able to be relocated.
However, the impacts of last minute relocation have been notable, especially in the opening week. On day one, much of the venue was not yet set up—new decorations and pavillions would appear throughout the course of the day. Technology including microphones for presenters and closed caption TV screens with schedules and locations of negotiations and side events were not fully functional until partway through day three, making it difficult at times to get where you needed to go. Many panels have noted missing members, disproportionately from Least Developed Countries and the Global South. As one example of many, a side event on climate migration dwindled from what was intended to be a large diverse panel presenting contrasting experiences from different regions to a fairly one-sided conversation with only two panelists, as scheduled presenters from Bangladesh were unable to attend as a result of the location change.
Out of sheer coincidental luck, I had waited an extra day to purchase my plane tickets to Santiago, but many other attendees were not that fortunate. Even in the case that you had invested in travel insurance, many airlines have exceptions for civil disturbances. Some people were able to change routes for a (hefty) fee and rebook on the same airline; others simply had to cancel their trip. With the caveat that this is a very limited sample size, most people I’ve talked to from the U.S. lost in the neighborhood of at least $500 in the rebooking process.
This financial burden unfortunately has played a role in propagating the already present inequities in conference access and voice for countries with lesser financial resources.
Generally, the conference has seemed slightly smaller and calmer than last year. The venue is slightly more spread out, and the vast majority of the Katowice Rulebook for the Paris Agreement was completed and accepted last year. Instead of the tangible panic that filled the air last year, there is a pervasive sense of momentum and desire to at last finalize Article 6 and direct focus to implementation.
Parties and the Presidency are aware that the clock is ticking if the world is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius—this year’s conference tagline is #TiempoDeActuar; #TimeForAction. It is time to take action to reduce and remove emissions. It is time to increase ambitions to meet the goals set under the Paris Agreement. It is high time to make sure marginalized voices are heard and respected, even and especially when they are unable to attend.
At the opening ceremonies of COP25, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres asked “do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned?”
As negotiations continue to progress, even where conflict exists, it is clear that the overwhelming answer is, “No.”