On October 30th, the Chilean government announced it would no longer host COP25 which was to be held in Santiago, due to security concerns stemming from mass protests. The protests are a response to the country’s rising cost of living and increasing levels of inequality, which are some of the highest in the world. Protestors are demanding systemic change and better social conditions, including, among many other demands, higher pensions and wages, and affordable healthcare and education. After Chile’s withdrawal as a host for COP25, Madrid offered to host the event, with Chile still as the president-designate of COP25. This last-minute venue change to Madrid was a cause of serious concern for many Chilean environmentalists, scientists and NGOs. Many civil society groups, particularly Latin American groups, fear that this will mean that civil society won’t have an adequate platform at this year’s COP. What impact will this shift have, if any, on the role civil society are able to play at COP25 and the focus on issues of inequality?
Civil society groups, one type of non-state actor, have for some time played a significant role in the making and implementation of international environmental law, and in global level climate negotiations more generally. They have played a powerful role as observers, and have released analyses and reports that offer useful perspectives on the information governments have provided with respect to their contributions. This type of support has enabled stakeholders, including other parties, civil society organizations, and concerned citizens to form their own views on the level of ambitions parties claiming.
One of the main goals of COP25 was to ensure the open and transparent participation of civil society. A number of civil society organizations in Chile were included in the COP25 committee and helped design a civil society environmental summit space to be created in the “Green Zone” (which was to be open to everyone and located directly next to the official negotiating space). These groups, which included Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance, Climate Action Network Latin America, Asociacion Ambiente y Sociedad, and La Ruta del Clima, amongst others, stated that they were not consulted in the government’s decision to withdraw form hosting COP25. They view this decision as a “barrier to the effective participation of civil society organizations and indigenous peoples in climate change processes and actions,” one that completely disregarded the efforts, time and resources that local and regional civil society and non-profit organizations have invested in planning for this COP to make the international community aware of the socio-environmental impacts of climate change on Chile and the Latin American region.
These organizations are not alone in expressing their concerns. Greenpeace Chile’s national director also expressed similar concerns, indicating that Chile’s withdrawal from hosting COP25 expressed a reluctance to fully engage civil society organizations in the international climate dialogue. In the same press release, Chile also stated that the move of the COP from Chile to Madrid “must not stop the debate in Chilean society on environmental and social injustice.” Maisa Rojas, the director of Chile’s Center for Climate Science and Resilience and the COP25 scientific coordinator, also expressed similar concerns. She noted the importance of ensuring engagement of civil society, and highlighted the interlinked nature of issues of inequality and climate change. The director of the Chilean chapter of the World Wildlife Fund said that even though the Chilean delegation aims to still focus on equity in climate issues, he fears that the move will likely dampen the focus on inequality. He stated that “we’re moving to an environment where we aren’t going to be subjected to any protesting of a significant nature…so essentially, we don’t get to see that reality of what inequality is triggering.”
For these reasons, many civil society organizations will still be sending delegations to Santiago, in addition to the delegations they will be sending to Madrid. Organizations such as the Climate Justice Alliance, Friends of the Earth International, Grassroots Global Justice, Right to the City, and Indigenous Environmental Network will be joining Combre de los Pueblos, which is scheduled for Dec 2 to 7. An agenda is set to discuss climate justice issues including support for popular movements in the Americas, deep engagement with international allies, political education and leadership development, and just transition, in hopes to bridge the gap between the official COP25 in Madrid and the unofficial civil society COP events still taking place in Chile.