Chile has abandoned hosting Cop25, we cannot abandon its people

Comment: As the UN talks move elsewhere, the international community must remain deeply vigilant about the potential for continued and escalating repression in Chile

Police shells, found on the Alameda, Santiago’s main street during protests last week (Photo: Migrar Photo)

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The signs of discontent are everywhere. Millions of people are out on the streets in different parts of the world – from Hong Kong, UK, Haiti, Lebanon, Ecuador and Chile – demanding their right to a better life.

Faced with rising inequality, austerity measures impacting the poorest, unfair policies and corruption as the common denominator, this seems to be a political and economic system that has broken and is failing citizens.

Politicians today are not only dragging their feet in taking ambitious action to respond to the climate crisis but it seems there is an astounding and dangerous blindspot in their understanding of how social justice is fundamentally connected to climate justice.

The root causes for both are the same: an economic and political system that puts profits over people and planet, driven by greed and the exploitation of resources, especially fossil fuels, and which prioritises the interests of the wealthy few polluters and corporations to the detriment of the majority who suffer an unfair burden. The IPCC 1.5 report has highlighted these connections very robustly.

Massive protests and disruption in Chile ahead of trade and UN climate summits

Providing leadership on climate change must include a respect for democracy, human rights and socially just policies and practices that place the needs of people and the protection of the planet at the centre.

In the case of Chile, the prospect of civil society participating in a UN climate summit against the backdrop of rising civil discontent and escalating government repression against citizens was deeply troubling and challenged many in civil society who see human rights and climate action as inseparable.

The idea that climate activists would be cocooned in a building to negotiate the last pieces of the Paris Agreement while our brothers and sisters in Chile could face heavy-handed actions to quell demonstrations for the “safety” of those at the Cop would have been not just absurd but contrary to the very notion of climate solidarity and justice.

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The withdrawal now of Chile as the host of Cop25 poses new questions and challenges. The expected decision to move the Cop to a different country – possibly Spain – cannot divert our attention away from the ongoing crisis in Chile. The relocation of the climate summit is not merely an issue of ensuring the safety and comfort of international participants.

Civil society and the international community must not shift its gaze away from Chile and must remain deeply vigilant about the potential for continued or escalated government repression. It is our duty to keep this attention through the Cop, wherever it takes place, and to reaffirm the overarching principles of social justice and human rights that must guide all climate policies and action.

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Climate Action Network issued a statement expressing solidarity with Chilean civil society groups who wish to continue to advance dialogue and progress on environmental issues in Chile. We understand that shifting the Cop away from Chile, and Latin America, is a missed opportunity for the many thousands of civil society activists in the region who have worked tirelessly for climate justice and towards having their voices heard at Cop25.

Countries in Latin America are experiencing severe climate chaos and ecological breakdown with frontline communities and indigenous people suffering the worst impacts. It is critical that we continue to centre the voices of people from that region in Cop25 and ensure their full participation.

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Finally, the decision to move the Cop, while logistically challenging, cannot be an excuse to limit access and participation by civil society and other observers in the Cop. It is important that the UNFCCC secretariat together with the Chilean presidency and the new host country make adequate and fair arrangements that will allow for an inclusive and participatory Cop25.

It should be clear that no matter where and when Cop25 takes place, it must deliver the political urgency to respond to the climate emergency with escalating and devastating impacts already being felt by the poorest especially those most vulnerable in the global south. There can be no successful implementation of the Paris Agreement if we do not ensure social and climate justice.

Tasneem Essop is interim executive director of Climate Action Network International.  

Read more on: Activism and campaigning | Climate justice | Climate Politics | Comment | Comment | COP25 | UN climate talks