The COP that was and wasn’t: Reflections on hosting COP 25 from a TWAIL perspective

Special Issue: 5th Anniversary of the Paris Agreement


“We are taking COP 25 to Chile”[i] announced Carolina Schmidt, Minister for Environment of Chile at a press conference held at COP 24 in Katowice. The Paris Agreement had been adopted in 2015 (COP 21) and in order to allow the full implementation of the agreement, approving its rulebook was essential. This was the Katowice Conference’s main purpose. COP 25’s agenda was equally crucial as it inherited the task of regulating the mechanisms under article 6 and would see the beginning of the updating process of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), among other relevant negotiations. Chile’s announcement as host country for this conference was cause for great local excitement. Many believed that the topic would finally become more visible. COPs are not only a negotiators’ meeting but an event of global interest. They increasingly attract the eyes of the world. Once the location was announced, environmental NGOs immediately called on the Chilean Government to take this opportunity to move forward on real – not just symbolic climate action-, starting by stopping the expansion of environmental sacrifice areas and insisting on the non-ratification of the Escazú Agreement.[ii]

This extra attention on Climate Change policy was much needed given that these were unknown topics to the majority of the Chilean population. Not even presidential candidates are very informed on the matter. The following example illustrates this statement. During the 2017 presidential campaign, when Senator and presidential candidate, Manuel José Ossandón was questioned about his own vote on the Paris Agreement on live TV, he could not remember how his had casted his vote or what the agreement was about. [iii] Another example of how uninformed Chileans are was portrayed by a study published on April 2020. The study indicated that 80% of the surveyed university students recognized the importance of climate change and climate action but the same amount did not know that COP 25 was soon going to be held in Chile. [iv]

Despite the sour outcome of moving COP 25 to Madrid, the impact of COP 25 on Chilean society can only be described as huge. It translated into civil society articulation, media coverage, an expansion of academic events and research on climate change, and some very concrete outputs endorsed by the Government and legislators. One of these was the first Chilean climate change law[v] and NDC updating process[vi].

This post reflects on two main ideas. First, the importance of Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) when studying the overall process of organizing COPs and the specific nature of the decision-making processes of these events. This leads to the second issue, which involves the specific nature of these processes for the case of COP 25 in Chile.

In order to illustrate the notions presented above, I rely on auto-ethnography and ethnography (my own experience and observations of the COP 25 processes), and data analysis of public records containing government, MPs, NGOs and other relevant actors’ declarations to describe the phenomena of planning COP 25 from the host country’s perspective. This exercise is representative of a TWAIL perspective and it also sheds some light on aspects of the Paris Agreement that are often overlooked, and hence, unknown.

The relevance of TWAIL and the Global South

When comparing Chile to other Latin-American countries, the dominating notion is that the country is “doing better” than its neighbours. Chile is a member of the OECD, it is ranked low in corruption rankings, its per-capita income is one of the highest within the region, it is rated as a secure market for foreign investment, and public institutions are regarded as stable.[vii] This comparison, however, is embedded in codes and institutions originating in the Global North and uses parameters that say little about the true life of Chileans. Assessing Chile through these colonizer views provides an image of the country that is dramatically incomplete, and hence, false. Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) is “a movement encompassing scholars and practitioners of international law and policy who are concerned with issues related to the global South in its broad conception.”[viii] This extends to scholarship that covers information and concerns that may not “fit” into the interests, aims, and values of Global North institutions and scholarship, but are essential for a better comprehension of diverse realities. The Global North-Global South paradigm is at the core of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change) and the Paris Agreement. The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities[ix] is fundamental to the regime, as is the request to take into account the specific needs and challenges of developing countries which is present through different provisions of the Convention and the Agreement.[x] Therefore, a TWAIL approach to international climate change law is essential for a better understanding of those specific needs and challenges.

Seventeen years ago, Chile implemented a neo-liberal socioeconomic model that has remained in place since. It was designed and enforced by a Military Dictatorship during its rule (1973-1990) and promoted by the US and other foreign influences. This administration turned the Chilean socio-legal model into a playground for neoliberalism and was able to crystalize this model in an -almost impossible to change the constitution- that is still in place. The rhetoric used to justify this turn towards the neo-liberal model of development is known: economic growth eventually leads to a better life for many. However, this rhetoric has been amply challenged even before it was implemented in the country. In 1972, when addressing the UN General Assembly, former President Salvador Allende focused on the need to take a hard look at reality and challenge some neoliberal assumptions:  “The outlook which faced my country, just like many other countries of the third world, was a model of reflex modernization, which as technical studies and the most tragic realities demonstrate, excludes from the possibilities of progress, well-being, and social liberation more and more millions of people, destining them to a subhuman life.”[xi]

Over thirty years later, many Chileans (including myself) have witnessed the absolute failure of this system. Our ecology has been devastated, natural resources plundered, and in hands of foreign companies. The consequent subhuman life conditions for millions who are deprived of access to basic rights such as a healthy environment, health services, education, a just compensation for their work, a reasonable pension, among many others, essential for human development.

The expansion of social movements in Chile and the 2019 riots

Despite the complete dismantlement of civil society after 17 years of dictatorship, social movements have become stronger over the past few years, and 2019 was precisely the year that demonstrated just how strong they currently are.

On October 18, 2019 in a totally unplanned and spontaneous manner young students reacted after the Metro ticket price was raised. Students and sympathizers jumping the subway’s turnstile in protest. People just said “enough”. As it would be later repeated all over the movement’s banners and signs, “Chile woke up”.[xii] By the million and across different cities and regions Chileans protested. The movement quickly protested against more than the metro ticket price increase. The movement’s slogan state that “it was not the 30 pesos; it was the 30 years of abuse”. The protests were strongly repressed by the military and the police but continued until the arrival of COVID-19 to the country. The riots were used as an excuse to move COP 25 to Madrid. An excuse, I say, an opinion that will be developed in the following section.

I finalize this contextual introduction commenting that as part of this social movement, a plebiscite was added to the agenda.  The demand for a new constitution was one of the many issues raised by the movement. Despite COVID, the plebiscite took place as planned and in complete order in October 2020. An overwhelming 78% of the population voted ‘Yes’ to a new constitution. In locations with high environmental conflicts, this reached 90%. Apparently, Chileans disagree with the opinion others have about their quality of life and are demanding radical change. A second reading shows how environmental depredation is at the core of these social injustices. As others have started to pick up, the social movement and the environmental movement are closely connected, and COP 25 from a Chilean perspective is a testimonial to that.[xiii]

Case Study:  a TWAIL approach to the planning and decision making of COP 25

As scholars, it is important to reflect on the importance of paying attention to local experiences, knowledge, and perceptions when studying International Law. In the following paragraphs, I offer -from a TWAIL perspective-, an account of some of these perceptions, focusing exclusively on the process of planning COP 25. Chile’s way of planning the event and the nature of the decision-making process serves as a testimonial of the limited connexion Government has with civil society and the little room it allows it in decision-making processes such as the planning of the convention.

The process of planning COP 25 in Chile had a challenging start. Carolina Schmidt -COP25 President and Minister for Environment- and President Piñera proposed January 2020 as a date for the event, given that the APEC conference was scheduled for December in Chile. Patricia Espinosa, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, did not admit this request and the date was set for 2-13 of December 2019.[xiv] The Government promptly announced Santiago as the location, and the challenge to find an appropriate venue began. It was finally decided that they would build a conference centre in Cerrillos, a peripheral area of Santiago. This decision was massively criticized. Firstly, because their justification was that the only venue sufficiently large was already booked, which is a weak argument given the abundance of other suitable buildings and the administrative powers that could have been used to secure any location, booked or not.[xv] Second, the sustainability behind a built-from-scratch temporary location is questionable. And lastly, some saw a possible motivation to keep the local population and civil society away from the event.

As part of the plan to organize the COP, the Government (Ministry for Environment and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) organized a series of 6 workshops for the involvement of civil society in the planning process. Those workshops (many of which I attended) were mainly focused on explaining their ideas and plans about the venue, the green zone, areas allocated to civil society and business, and updates on their progress and decisions. Some organizations with more experience at other COPs perceived Government as unprepared, and unaware of what a COP really entailed. To them, their plans seemed somewhat improvised. It is worth taking into account that up to COP 24, there was only one Chilean Environmental NGO accredited as an observer for the COP process. By the 4th workshop (August) Government was still unable to confirm the physical space in the venue that was going to be allocated to the Chilean Civil Society and how they were going to allocate it. Proposals and ideas on the matter that came from Chilean NGOs were disregarded.  To the allocation issue, the Government offered a 100 square meter space to be used by industry, academia and NGOs collectively and paying a fee.[xvi] As a result of this unilateral decision, a very frustrating part of the Civil Society decided to run independently, aligned with the Mayor of Cerrillos, and host a parallel COP in a neighbouring city hall building.[xvii] The Cumbre de los Pueblos, a regional Latin-American NGO coalition did the same.[xviii]

The eruption and massification of Chile’s social movement dramatically interrupted this planning process. Less than two months prior to COP 25 taking place, the protests began and the state of emergency was enacted which translated into an immediate restriction of freedoms of movement and gathering, and brutal police and military repression.[xix] Environmental NGOs -already organized- reacted promptly and condemned violations of human rights.[xx] During the following days, the President announced that COP 25 was not going to be held in Chile, using the social movement protests as an excuse. Once again, Civil Society’s opinion was not taken into account. As a matter of fact, the day prior to the President’s announcement, a group of environmental NGOs had responded to an invitation to a meeting with Minister Schmidt through a statement. They asked Government to carry through with COP 25 as planned but demanded it be done so in a context of democracy and observance of human rights. Civil Society’s request was disregarded once more. Public statements are a testimonial of this disagreement.[xxi] This clearly contradicts the content of the Paris Agreement which encourages parties to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation, and public access to information. It also does not align with the spirit of the transparency framework established for the implementation of the PA.[xxii]

In parallel, there were more substantive discussions: a now very organized environmental civil society formed different coalitions[xxiii] and began campaigning and advocating more strongly for the ratification of the Escazú Agreement (regional agreement on public participation), as well as a more ambitious NDC, among other demands. These demands are still at the core of the work environmental and social organizations are doing in Chile. In view of the upcoming Constitutional Convention, there is a strong focus on advocacy, education, and promotion of an ecological constitution that respects people’s and nature’s rights.

The engagement and work of Chilean civil society around COP 25 exceeds this simple testimonial example. However, this exercise does provide clear evidence of the impact that being chosen to host this event had as a social catalyser in Chilean society, the intrinsic relationship between environmental and social justice, and the relevance of exploring such considerations when discussing COPs, the Paris Agreement, and International Law as a discipline.

 

[i] Personal translation. See video on the Minister’s twitter account: https://twitter.com/CarolaSchmidtZ/status/1073664591513772032

[ii] The Escazú Agreement is a regional agreement protecting access to information and public participation in environmental matters, as well as promoting climate justice and the protection of environmental activists. Full text available at: https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XXVII-18&chapter=27&clang=_en. See this calling to government also on: https://www.cooperativa.cl/noticias/pais/medioambiente/ong-cuestionan-preparacion-de-chile-para-recibir-cumbre-medioambiental/2018-12-15/143515.html

[iii] https://www.elmostrador.cl/noticias/multimedia/2017/06/05/video-el-momento-en-que-manuel-jose-ossandon-es-interpelado-sobre-el-acuerdo-de-paris-en-tolerancia-cero/

[iv] See: https://pactoglobal.cl/2019/encuesta-de-la-pucv-revela-que-el-80-de-los-jovenes-no-sabe-que-este-ano-se-hara-la-cop25-en-chile/

[v] For a comment on this legislation, see Madariaga, M. ´Is Chile Building Good Climate Governance? Reflections on the Drafting Process of the Climate Change Framework Law´ Environmental Law Review. For the legislation and its legislative discussion visit: https://www.camara.cl/legislacion/ProyectosDeLey/tramitacion.aspx?prmID=13728&prmBOLETIN=13191-12

[vi] See the 2020 Chilean NDC in Spanish at: https://mma.gob.cl/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/NDC_Chile_2020_español-1.pdf and in English at: https://www4.unfccc.int/sites/ndcstaging/PublishedDocuments/Chile%20First/Chile%27s_NDC_2020_english.pdf

[vii] See, for example:  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-50123494

[viii] TWAIL Review founding statement: https://twailr.com/about/founding-statement/

[ix] See the preamble and principle 3.1 of the UNFCCC, available at https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/conveng.pdf

[x] Principle 3.2 UNFCCC and the preamble and article 4 of the Paris Agreement, available at https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf

[xi] Extract taken from Shad Hammouri, “Revisiting Allende’s 1972 Speech at the United Nations General Assembly: Histories Repeated with a Twist”, available at: https://twailr.com/revisiting-allendes-1972-speech-at-the-united-nations-general-assembly-histories-repeated-with-a-twist/

[xii] Slogan used to describe the spontaneous social movement that started manifesting on October 2019.

[xiii] https://www.porlaaccionclimatica.cl/declaracion-publica-de-la-sociedad-civil-por-la-accion-climatica-sobre-la-no-realizacion-de-cop-25/

[xiv]See:https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/message%20to%20parties%20and%20observer%20organizations_dates%20of%20cop%2025_web.pdf

[xv] https://www.emol.com/noticias/Nacional/2019/04/11/944365/Las-opiniones-disidentes-que-deja-la-designacion-de-la-sede-de-la-COP-25-Es-Cerrillos-la-mejor-opcion.html

[xvi] Personal participant observation notes.

[xvii] https://www.porlaaccionclimatica.cl/programa-de-la-cumbre-social-por-la-accion-climatica/

[xviii] https://www.usach.cl/tags/cumbre-los-pueblos-cop25

[xix] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/13/chile-un-prosecution-police-army-protests

[xx] https://www.porlaaccionclimatica.cl/organizaciones-de-la-scac-llaman-a-respetar-los-derechos-humanos-y-exigen-que-la-cop25-se-haga-en-contexto-de-democracia-plena/

[xxi] https://mothernature.news/2019/10/31/chile-civil-society-ngos-reject-reasons-for-pinera-decision-to-cancel-hosting-apec-summit-and-cop25-climate-summit-following-social-unrest/

[xxii] Articles 12 and 13 of the Paris Agreement.

[xxiii] See their website: https://www.porlaaccionclimatica.cl

Monserrat Madariaga is a Chilean lawyer and PhD Candidate at UCL. Her research, which is supported by a scholarship from the Government of Chile, focuses on the relationship between Civil Society and Climate Change Law and Government.

 

[i] Personal translation. See video on the Minister’s twitter account: https://twitter.com/CarolaSchmidtZ/status/1073664591513772032

[ii] The Escazú Agreement is a regional agreement protecting access to information and public participation in environmental matters, as well as promoting climate justice and the protection of environmental activists. Full text available at: https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XXVII-18&chapter=27&clang=_en . See this calling to government also on: https://www.cooperativa.cl/noticias/pais/medioambiente/ong-cuestionan-preparacion-de-chile-para-recibir-cumbre-medioambiental/2018-12-15/143515.html

[iii]. See: https://pactoglobal.cl/2019/encuesta-de-la-pucv-revela-que-el-80-de-los-jovenes-no-sabe-que-este-ano-se-hara-la-cop25-en-chile/

[iv] https://www.elmostrador.cl/noticias/multimedia/2017/06/05/video-el-momento-en-que-manuel-jose-ossandon-es-interpelado-sobre-el-acuerdo-de-paris-en-tolerancia-cero/

[v] For a comment on this legislation, see Madariaga, M. ´Is Chile Building Good Climate Governance? Reflections on the Drafting Process of the Climate Change Framework Law´ Environmental Law Review. For the legislation and its legislative discussion visit: https://www.camara.cl/legislacion/ProyectosDeLey/tramitacion.aspx?prmID=13728&prmBOLETIN=13191-12

[vi] See the 2020 Chilean NDC in Spanish at: https://mma.gob.cl/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/NDC_Chile_2020_español-1.pdf and in English at: https://www4.unfccc.int/sites/ndcstaging/PublishedDocuments/Chile%20First/Chile%27s_NDC_2020_english.pdf

[vii] See, for example:  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-50123494

[viii] TWAIL Review founding statement: https://twailr.com/about/founding-statement/

[ix] See the preamble and principle 3.1 of the UNFCCC, available at https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/conveng.pdf

[x] Principle 3.2 UNFCCC and the preamble and article 4 of the Paris Agreement, available at https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf

[xi] Extract taken from Shad Hammouri, “Revisiting Allende’s 1972 Speech at the United Nations General Assembly: Histories Repeated with a Twist”, available at: https://twailr.com/revisiting-allendes-1972-speech-at-the-united-nations-general-assembly-histories-repeated-with-a-twist/

[xii] Slogan used to describe the spontaneous social movement that started manifesting on October 2019.

[xiii]https://www.porlaaccionclimatica.cl/declaracion-publica-de-la-sociedad-civil-por-la-accion-climatica-sobre-la-no-realizacion-de-cop-25/

[xiv] See: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/message%20to%20parties%20and%20observer%20organizations_dates%20of%20cop%2025_web.pdf

[xv] https://www.emol.com/noticias/Nacional/2019/04/11/944365/Las-opiniones-disidentes-que-deja-la-designacion-de-la-sede-de-la-COP-25-Es-Cerrillos-la-mejor-opcion.html

[xvi] Personal participant observation notes.

[xvii] https://www.porlaaccionclimatica.cl/programa-de-la-cumbre-social-por-la-accion-climatica/

[xviii] https://www.usach.cl/tags/cumbre-los-pueblos-cop25

[xix] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/13/chile-un-prosecution-police-army-protests

[xx] https://www.porlaaccionclimatica.cl/organizaciones-de-la-scac-llaman-a-respetar-los-derechos-humanos-y-exigen-que-la-cop25-se-haga-en-contexto-de-democracia-plena/

[xxi] https://mothernature.news/2019/10/31/chile-civil-society-ngos-reject-reasons-for-pinera-decision-to-cancel-hosting-apec-summit-and-cop25-climate-summit-following-social-unrest/

[xxii] Articles 12 and 13 of the Paris Agreement.

[xxiii] See their website: https://www.porlaaccionclimatica.cl

1 thought on “The COP that was and wasn’t: Reflections on hosting COP 25 from a TWAIL perspective”

  1. Only two days apart, Warsaw is playing host to two major conferences in parallel with COP19. You all know about the first one — the International Coal and Climate Summit starting today.  The second was a climate and health summit over the weekend organised by the Global Climate and Health Alliance.

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