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Because the Climate Crisis 'Does Not Wait for Us,' Spain to Host COP25 in Place of Chile

Critics warned that changing the venue to Europe could imperil the participation of attendees from Asia, Africa, and South America.

The Sherburne County (Sherco) Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant owned by Xcel Energy and located in Becker, Minnesota, shown in 2016.

The Sherburne County (Sherco) Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant owned by Xcel Energy and located in Becker, Minnesota, shown in 2016. (Photo: Tony Webster/Flickr/cc)

The Spanish government on Thursday announced it would host the United Nations Climate Conference in December, days after Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced his country could not be the venue due to continuing protests aginst the government in the Latin American country. 

While the news was welcomed as an example of the international community working to continue the global conversation on the climate crisis and solutions to the issue alive, a number of critics noted that the sudden shift in venue could imperil the participation of attendees from Asia, Africa, and South America.

"Thank you #Spain for stepping up to host #COP25 and to all countries and partners committed to #ClimateAction," tweeted U.N. deputy secretary general Amina J. Mohammed. "This move to #Madrid from Chile, formulated in just days, is a tremendous demonstration of solidarity and urgent leadership needed for climate solutions."

Spain stepped up to host the conference in the city of Madrid after a protest movement aimed at the Piñera government erupted in October. The ongoing demonstrations have upset the country's politics and are aimed at overturning the country's corrupt economic order.

"Yesterday I spoke with the [Prime Minister] of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, who made the generous offer to organize the COP25 summit in Madrid, Spain, the same days it was planned to be carried out in Chile, meaning, from the 2nd to the 13th of December this year," Piñera said Thursday.

The decision is the second time the conference has been rescheduled—Brazilian Preswiden Jair Bolsonaro backed out of his country hosting the event in November 2018.

Spain has had its own struggles with protest; demonstrations for and against the Catalonia independence movement have roiled Barcelona for weeks. But the Madrid conference appears unlikely to be affected by the Catalan region unrest. Some European climate activists expressed skepticism to HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman over Sánchez's motivations for annoucning he would host the conference just before a November 10 election.

"It's hard not to read this through a cynical lens," said Green New Deal for Europe's David Adler. "A lot of it fits into this broader portrait of someone who plays politics for personal gain, which has many of us in the climate movement deeply skeptical and suspicious of the motives that would have brought the COP to Madrid in the first place." 

A number of climate advocates welcomed the change in venue but cautioned that the suddenness of the transition could have negative effects on the attendance of those in the global south.

Climate Action Network policy coordinator Andreas Sieber said on Twitter that Spain's willingness to take up the mantle of host was a positive development because the climate crisis "does not wait for us." But, he added, there needs to be a process in place to help everyone attend the meeting.

"Also critical now to still fully include those most affected with lesser resources," tweeted Sieber, "this is not easy for small countries and NGOs."

The agreements that COP25 is expected to reach on funding for repairing damage of the climate crisis, Climate Change Advocacy consultant Julie-Anne Richards said, are too important for stakeholders to miss.

"It is imperative that vulnerable, least developed, African, and island nations are well represented" at the conference, said Richards. "Rushing to hold it in a new city imperils this."

Among those left adrift by the new plans was Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg, who turned to her Twitter following for help in making the journey from the Americas to Europe.

"I need to find a way to cross the Atlantic in November," said Thunberg. "If anyone could help me find transport I would be so grateful."

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