COP 25 in Madrid, what are the impacts on civil society participation?


COP 25 in Madrid, what are the impacts on civil society participation?

Authored by Jeffrey Qi

Edited by Keila Stark

On October 30th, the Government of Chile announced that it would no longer host the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 25th Conference of the Parties (COP 25), scheduled to start in less than a month in Santiago, Chile. After weeks of civil unrest, the Chilean Government could no longer guarantee the safety and logistical preparedness of both the upcoming APEC summit and COP 25, which would see an estimated 30,000 delegates attending. Later that day, the Government of Spain communicated to the UNFCCC and the Chilean Presidency that it could host the COP in Madrid with the same dates.

The decision to move an international conference did not come lightly. As the Paris Agreement is set to come fully into force next year, there are still multiple pending work programs that urgently need to be negotiated and confirmed. Nevertheless, the cross-Atlantic move has several implications on both developing countries’ negotiators and the civil society representatives who observe the negotiations, especially youth groups within the UNFCCC process.

First, thousands of observers, negotiators, press and conference service staff have to cancel and re-book their flight tickets, hotel accommodations, and local transportations. Cancellation fees and re-bookings will incur high financial costs, which will be burdensome to delegates from Least Developing Country (LDC) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The youth-organized “Sail to COP” project – which brings several youth activists from Europe to Chile via sail boats to reduce the emissions associated with their travel – may miss the COP in Madrid because they may not be able to sail back in time. BCCIC’s youth delegates and technical observers had to cancel their original itineraries and pay extra dollars for flights to Europe during the holiday rush season. The logistical challenges associated with changing the COP venue do not come cheaply.

Second, a lot of planned activities and events must be cancelled due to this change. The annual Conference of Youth (COY) which brings together youth activists from around the world before COP conferences had to navigate complex logistical difficulties to find a new venue in Madrid, and redirect budget and funding to accommodate the high cost of a European country. Months of volunteer work by dedicated Chilean youth organizers could be wasted at the end. The Global South Youth Climate Scholarship Program – a BCCIC supported program – had to pause its application process to address the logistical issues arising due to the venue change – hotels, flight tickets, budget reallocation, staffing and more.

Third, it is very difficult for delegates – especially those from developing countries – to obtain the necessary visa to enter Spain and the European Schengen area. With less than a month before the conference starts, many civil society delegates may find it hard to schedule a visa appointment with the Spanish diplomatic posts in their area, and thus, delay the visa application process and interfere with their attendance.

Fourth, though the Secretariat has decided that badge quotas will remain unchanged, the new venue may not be able to support the regular conference activities. These include side-events, exhibits, the climate action studio, and constituency and negotiators’ offices. In addition, due to room capacity constraints, civil society representatives may not be allowed into informal negotiations, contact-group meetings, and other negotiation rooms. This will defeat the very purpose of having civil society present at UN conferences to monitor and hold governments accountable in multilateral processes.

BCCIC’s youth-led Climate Change Branch joins the International Youth Climate Movement (the official children and youth constituency to the UN Climate Change processes, YOUNGO) in calling for the equitable inclusion of civil society representatives, especially children and youth, at the Madrid Climate Change Conference. We stress the importance of intergenerational equity and the integration of a rights-based approach in climate action, including defending human rights for all, and respecting the provisions in the ​Convention on the Rights of the Child​. The impacts on civil society participation due to the venue change must be meaningfully addressed by the UNFCCC Secretariat and the incoming Chilean Presidency in conjunction with the hosts of COP 25 – the Government of Spain and the city of Madrid.

2020 is the year where Parties are asked to submit their first official Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement. This is a year for increasing ambition, providing support, and enhancing adaptation efforts and building resilience. We join Climate Action Network International (CAN-I) to stress upon the urgency of concluding the remaining negotiation items under the Paris Agreement Work Programme, including Article 6 market mechanism, common time frames, and the transparency framework. “In these times of uncertainty, it is even more important for us to demonstrate collective strength, vision and action to support our multilateral institutions.” (YOUNGO statement)

BCCIC’s Youth Delegation stands in solidarity with those who are fighting for climate and social justice around the world. We believe that protecting environmental defenders and social justice advocates is defending human rights and contributing to a world where no one is left behind.


This blog post is written by Jeffrey Qi, Coordinator of Multilateral Affairs at BCCIC Climate Change. BCCIC is committed to meaningful youth engagement and representation at UN conferences, and will continue its COP 25 Youth Delegation project. See you in Madrid.