Violent domestic unrest has forced Chile to express its inability to host this year’s climate talks — the 25th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP25.

That this happened weeks before the conference was scheduled to begin — December 2 — complicates matters for the Secretariat of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, because it takes several months to organise one.

That the silver jubilee conference has had to be footballed around is rather ominous for climate action. This being the Latin American countries’ turn to hold the event, it was first picked up by Brazil — but that was before Jair Bolsonaro became the President of the country. Bolsonaro, and his foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, are climate deniers; they, like Donald Trump, believe that the concept of ‘climate change science’ is rubbish.

Hosting options

The question ‘if not Brazil, then who?’ got tossed around for a while, before Costa Rica, the Central American country, toyed with the idea of picking up the baton. After all, it was Christiana Figueres, a Costa Rican diplomat, and the daughter of José Figueres Ferrer, a former President of the country, who was the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC during the Paris conference (COP21) of December 2015.

But Costa Rica soon gave it up, and opted to host a ‘pre-COP’ meeting instead, which it did recently.

Chile picked up the thread and it was assumed that COP25 would be held in Santiago, but that is not to be.

The UNFCCC is “exploring alternative hosting options,” but it is difficult to see any country stepping in at short notice.

The only city that can is Bonn, the headquarters of UNFCCC. The rules provide that in the absence of a host, the conferences would be held there. The 2017 conference, the COP23, was Fiji’s turn, but the Pacific island nation held it in Bonn.

Climate experts believe that COP25 could only be held in Bonn. Then, Europe would host three conferences in a row. COP24 was held in Katowice, Poland and next year’s conference is scheduled to happen in London.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has termed the conferences “useless”.

‘Useless’ conferences

The former Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change and the current Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, was an Indian negotiator at the COP15 that was held in Copenhangen in 2009.

“These COPs are useless, since they meet (only) to decide where and when to meet again,” Ramesh told BusinessLine , when asked for a reaction to the cancellation of COP25. “They are forums for posturing,” he said.

Some experts say that even if that is true, the COP meetings serve to highlight climate issues. Because of the COP meetings, climate action has gathered momentum elsewhere. “Climate action has acquired a life beyond the COP meetings,” observed Damandeep Singh, Director, CDP India, which is part of CDP Worldwide, a non-profit that also works in the area of climate action.

However, he told BusinessLine that the cancellation of COP25 is a setback inasmuch as “people can’t sit and talk”.

According to Aarti Khosla, Director at Climate Trends, a Delhi-based strategic communications body that specialises in building narratives around climate change, Chile backing out strikes as an illustration of the complexities of climate change.

Khosla told BusinessLine that for a country (Chile) that had committed to generating a fifth of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025, the domestic protests — which were triggered by the government’s raising of tariff hike because of the shift to renewables — “lays bare the tough road ahead for climate action.”