Chile has pulled out of hosting this year’s COP25 UN climate talks, as well as next month’s APEC Summit, President Sebastian Pinera announced on Wednesday, as a wave of violent riots continues to grip the country.
In a televised speech, Pinera said the decision to cancel the events – both of which were to be held in Santiago – was made “with much pain”.
“When a father has problems, he always has to give his family priority over other options. Likewise, a president always has to be able to advance his own countrymen above any other consideration.”
In a statement, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa confirmed the move.
“Earlier today, I was informed of the decision by the government of Chile not to host COP25 in view of the difficult situation that the country is undergoing. We are currently exploring alternative hosting options,” she said.
The Chilean government said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres confirmed that the country will remain president of COP25, regardless of its location.
Clashes between protesters and security forces, which were sparked by a hike in metro fares in the country’s capital, have spread nationwide, leaving at least 18 people dead and leading the government to declare a state of emergency and impose curfews.
Chileans are protesting what they see as a government and a billionaire president siding with private companies at the expense of the public and the widening gap in living conditions and inequality.
The Chilean government last week vowed to restore order before the two major summits, but other nations are said to be increasingly concerned about sending delegates to a city that remains under siege.
Despite cancelling its hosting of COP25, Pinera maintained that Chile was still committed to the UNFCCC and fighting global warming.
The president cited the country’s goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, which will be accomplished through a coal phaseout, overhaul of the transportation system, and protecting forests.
“The climate talks in Chile were cancelled because of the very issues that are at the heart of the climate emergency: social inequality, disrespect for human rights, and an economy that prioritizes big business and polluters over the needs of everyday people,” said May Boeve, executive director of green group 350.org.
“We cannot solve the social crisis without tackling the climate crisis, and any efforts to prevent climate catastrophe without tackling inequality and improving human rights will simply not work,” she added.
“COP won’t be happening in Chile anymore, but our attention will remain there. Demanding social equity is a fundamental right of people anywhere in the world, as is addressing the climate emergency.”
Chile agreed to organise the annual climate summit – scheduled to take place from Dec. 2-13 – after previous host Brazil last year withdrew its offer under newly-elected far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
Heads of states from the Asia Pacific region, including US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, had also been due to descend on Santiago for the annual APEC Forum on Nov. 16-17.
Chile’s withdrawal means the COP25 talks may now return to the UNFCCC headquarters in Bonn, where they were held in 2017.
“We have just been informed that President Pinera has decided to cancel the COP25 in Santiago de Chile,” tweeted German state secretary for the environment Jochen Flasbarth.
“We are in contact with the UN Climate Change Secretariat and the Polish COP24 Presidency to discuss the situation.”
The Associated Press, citing an anonymous official, reported that all major UN venues are being considered as options, which also include New York, Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi.
The Santiago COP was expected to thrust the issue of international emissions trade into the global spotlight.
Government negotiators were targetting the completion of rules under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement at the meeting, with the issue the only major one still outstanding amongst all elements of the pact’s rulebook.
“[Chile’s withdrawal] complicates things but I am sure we will find a way and finalise quickly the work we must deliver, including under SBSTA,” tweeted veteran French negotiator Paul Watkinson, referring to the technical negotiating track overseeing Article 6 talks that he chairs.
“Climate action and raising ambition is much more than the COP,” he added.