Photo: Carlos Figueroa
Days of violence and turmoil in Chile have led to President Sebastián Piñera’s surprising announcement on Wednesday that his nation would withdraw from hosting this year’s UN Climate Conference in Santiago, just over a month before it was scheduled to take place.
While a 4-cent hike in metro prices sparked the unrest, the protests resulted from decades of massive inequality dating back to the economic model implemented under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Chile’s violent crackdown of protestors exacerbated the situation, causing the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights and former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to investigate claims of human rights abuses by Piñera’s Administration.
The cancellation is unfortunate, but this should not stop the important work of the December Climate Conference from going on. World leaders must step up and find a new location, without delay.
After insisting that the conference would go on as planned, Chile’s announcement to withdraw from hosting COP25 caught many by surprise, including UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa.
“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,” said Espinosa. “We are currently exploring alternative hosting options.”
While Chile wants to maintain the Conference Presidency, it is, it is unclear where and when COP25 will now be held.
“We are at war”
The Piñera Administration’s dismissive attitude toward human rights has been highly problematic throughout the planning of the conference. Environmental Minister Carolina Schmidt has made clear that Chile will not sign the Escazú Agreement, a regional environmental treaty among Latin American and Caribbean nations to protect the human rights of environmental defenders and provide public access to information.
Chile’s disregard for the rights of its citizens has been on full display for the world to see as Chilean police and military forces have implemented a violent crackdown on the protestors. Since the protests began, at least 20 people have been killed and hundreds more injured.
“We are at war against a powerful enemy, who is willing to use violence without any limits,” said Piñera, addressing the nation in a televised response.
Piñera’s violent response helped trigger an investigation by Bachelet, who wrote:
“Having monitored the crisis in Chile since it began, I have decided to send a verification mission to examine the allegations of human rights violations.”
Costa Rica unlikely to host COP25
Chile’s abrupt cancellation has thrown this year’s negotiations into chaos, causing the UNFCCC Secretariat to scramble to find a new location. Many people are looking at Costa Rica for leadership since it hosted the PreCOP25 conference and offered to host COP25 following Brazil’s withdrawal after the election of Jair Bolsonaro. As it stands, it is highly unlikely that Costa Rica will be the next host, with Environmental Minister Carlos Manuel Rodríguez all but ruling out the possibility.
“The cancellation of COP25 is unfortunate. We look forward to its reorganization,” wrote Paola Vega of Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly. “However, Costa Rica, as much as it would like to, does not have the capacity to organize an event of this level in a month. Not even a first world country could. A regrettable delay.”
Chilean civil society snubbed
Piñera’s decision was a major blow to Chilean civil society organizations, which had hoped to bring attention to the critical issues they are working on.
The Civil Society for Climate Action (SCAC), a platform that brings together more than 130 Chilean organizations from the environmental world, territorial movements, professional associations, unions, and political and academic organizations, issued the following statement condemning their government:
“We reject the decision of President Sebastián Piñera not to carry out COP25 in Chile. This very important summit on climate change was a great opportunity to highlight the socio-environmental problems that affect many inhabitants and areas of the national territory, as well as to lift some of the leadership lost internationally by subtracting from important and necessary agreements such as the signing of the Escazú Agreement and the Migration Pact.”
SCAC went on to urge Chile to abandon its extractivist model and embrace human rights.
“We call on the government to adopt solutions that will lead us to overcome the moment we live as a country. We need structural reforms that will end the extractivist model, make water a human right and its priority use for consumption and maintenance of ecosystems, the areas of sacrifice be terminated and the Escazú Agreement be signed and ratified.”
While the government of Chile has abandoned its role to host a peaceful and productive climate conference, it is important to make sure that the voices of civil society are heard at this critical moment in Chile’s history.