Climate summits in Madrid and Santiago

The 25th Conference of the Parties (COP 25) of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change was meant to take place in Santiago, Chile, from December  2-13, 2019. Unfortunately Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced at the end of October that, due to the civil unrest taking place in the country, his government would no longer be able to host the conference. Subsequently, Spain came forward to convene the COP 25 in Madrid with Chile to remain COP President and so every agreement here in Madrid will most likely be described with a Santiago appellation as if it was agreed upon in Chile’s capital city,

This change of venue from Santiago to Madrid will likely have not only consequences in how the agreements here are described. But as I have pointed out in a briefing paper prepared with my brilliant colleagues in Parabukas, one of the world’s most strategic thinking consulting firms on climate change, it could affect the substance of the work that is being done here in Madrid.

Last July, Carolina Schmidt, the Chilean Environment Minister and President of COP 25, listed Chile’s COP priorities at the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development held in New York. These include Ambition in Implementation, Market Mechanisms, Climate Finance, Scientific Solutions to the Climate Crisis, Adaptation, Loss and Damage, Forests and Food Security, and Oceans and Climate Change. Indeed, Chile had hoped to highlight the struggles facing developing countries and the most vulnerable sectors of society through this COP.

A “Peoples’ Summit 2019” had been set to take place alongside the COP in Chile, led by social, environmental and feminist organizations, and unions, meant to bring attention to unequal and unjust systems that have caused and continue to exacerbate climate change. The Summit’s slogan is Salvemos la Tierra, Cambiemos el Sistema – “Save the Earth, Change the System.” Its objective is to “mobilize and build a global social force, an alternative to the production and consumption model (neoliberal), that overcomes the social and ecological crisis that puts the future of life on the planet at imminent risk.”

Rather than cancel the People’s Summit with the withdrawal of Chile as host, two summits are now taking place parallel to COP 25 – one in Santiago and one in Madrid. This is a testament to the importance and necessity of platforms and venues to tackle critical social, economic, and environmental issues outside the walls of the Conference proper, and emphasize that the UN talks are not enough to solve the climate crisis at the scale and speed needed to avert the worst of its consequences.

On a personal note, this is the twentieth time I am attending a climate conference of the parties. I attended COP 1 in Berlin, COP 2 in Geneva, COP 3 in Kyoto, COP 4 in Buenos Aires, COP 5 in Bonn, COP 6 in The Hague, COP 6 (bis) in Bonn (this was a continuation of The Hague meeting which did not succeed in arriving at agreement on joe the Kyoto Protocol rules), COP 7 in Marrakech, COP 8 in New Delhi, and COP 9 in Milan. These were from 1995 to 2003. In both Geneva and Kyoto, I was a lead negotiator of the Philippines.

I then missed COP 10 in Buenos Aires, COP 11 in Montreal, COP 12 in Nairobi, COP 13 in Bali, and COP 14 in Poznan (Poland). At that time, I was focusing on adaptation and governance work at the local level. These were from 2004-2008. 

I resumed attending COPs in 2009 becoming again lead negotiator for the Philippines and chairing or actively participating in REDD-plus negotiations in COP 15 in Copenhagen, COP 16 in Cancun, COP 17 in Durban, COP 18 in Doha, COP 19 in Warsaw, and COP 20 in Lima.

In COP 21 in Paris in 2015, I was a lead negotiator for the Philippines and the official spokesperson of the delegation. 

In COP 22 in Marrakech and COP 23 in Bonn, I was still in the Philippine delegation but my work was limited to advising the delegation head. 

Last year, in COP 24 in Katowice, Poland, I did not represent the Philippines anymore. That is the case as well in COP 25 now being held in Madrid. I stand ready however to help our delegation head, Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda whom I have advised in these issues for many years when she was a senator.

All these years, I always had three hats in the climate change negotiations – activist, academic, and government. For the time being, I am wearing only the first two hats and I welcome the freedom that comes with that. I am also fairly certain that in the not so distant future, I will be called to serve the country again on this issue and I certainly will help if asked so long as my values on human rights, ecosystem integrity, and climate justice will not be compromised.

Four years ago, after the Paris conference, I had hoped to retire from the climate process and focus on training and mentoring new generations of climate scientists, diplomats, government officials, and negotiators. But upon discernment, even as I have scaled up my teaching, given what is at stake in what has now become a climate emergency, to stand down now is to be selfish.

There is still a lot of work to do to combat what has now become an existential threat to the country and planet. The climate emergency is also the most serious threat on the human rights of our people and especially the poor. Let’s be reminded of this as we celebrate International Human Rights Day Today.

In protecting people and planet, I make mine the famous lines of Robert Frost, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep,  And miles to go before I sleep.”


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