Chile Cancels Plan to Host UN Climate Summit Amid Civil Unrest at Home

Chile's APEC summit plan was also cancelled.

People demonstrate against the government economic policies in front of the presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, on Oct. 30, 2019. Credit: Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images

People demonstrate against the Chilean government's economic policies in front of the presidential palace in Santiago, on Oct. 30, 2019. The protests began in mid-October over a 4 percent increase in metro fares and spread, some becoming violent clashes with police. Credit: Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty

Update: On Nov. 1, United Nations Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa announced that the UN's climate summit would be held in Madrid, Spain, on the original dates, Dec. 2-13, following an offer from the government there. 

President Sebastián Piñera announced on Wednesday that Chile would no longer host next month's summit of leaders from the Asia-Pacific region, throwing a wrench into plans by U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping to secure a trade war truce at the gathering.

Chile also pulled out of hosting the annual UN climate change conference, COP25, which was due to be held in December.

The Chilean president was forced to cancel because of continuing protests against inequality in one of Latin America's richest countries — the worst civil unrest in Chile since the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet that ended in 1990. 

Trump and Xi had focused on the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit as the place where they could agree to a ceasefire in their long-running trade war, with China agreeing to beef up its agricultural purchases in exchange for a reprieve from higher U.S. tariffs. Officials from both countries were also negotiating limited agreements on intellectual property and currency as part of the package. 

Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesperson, told reporters on Wednesday that the U.S. was still looking forward to finalizing the trade deal "within the same timeframe."

U.S. and Chinese officials, who were still ironing out details of the accord, no longer face as firm a deadline to conclude the negotiations. It was unclear whether APEC would scramble to find an alternative venue and time for the summit, or whether Washington and Beijing would identify a new location for their presidents to meet.

UN Explores Other Locations for COP 25

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change said it was "exploring alternative hosting options" for its summit in light of Chile's decision.

The sudden change of plans for the annual UN climate change summit, the central pillar of the Paris climate agreement, could mean a delay in the event, which had been scheduled for Dec. 2-13.

If no country agrees to host the climate talks, the location of the meeting will be shifted to Bonn, Germany, which is the headquarters of the UN Climate Change group.

Chile's cancellation could also put more focus on the UK, which is set to host the next round of climate talks in Glasgow in 2020.

What Happened?

Chilean officials had previously insisted there was "no chance" of calling off the summits. But Piñera was ultimately forced to pull out in order to concentrate on controlling the protests. 

"We are very sorry and profoundly regret the problems and inconveniences that this decision means for both summits," Piñera said Wednesday.

He added that the decision was necessary "given the difficult circumstances that our country has gone through and considering that our top concern and priority as a government is to concentrate absolutely on, first, fully re-establishing public order, citizen security and social peace; secondly to impose with all the force and urgency required the new social agenda to respond to the principal demands of our citizens; and third to encourage a wide and profound process of dialogue to listen to our compatriots." 

The cancellation are a blow to a country that has prided itself on its political stability and openness to global commerce over the past three decades. 

"For years, #Chile has been an anchor of stability in Latin America from both an economic and political perspective, reducing poverty, tending to democratic institutions and economic growth. It's also a true leader in global trade matters. This latest turn of events is stunning," Eric Farnsworth, a former U.S. trade official now at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas think-tank in Washington, wrote on Twitter. 

The announcement comes after curfews and a state of emergency were lifted. A cabinet reshuffle on Monday also saw the departure of some of Piñera's closest and most loyal collaborators, including Finance Minister Felipe Larraín and Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick, who is also his cousin. 

Despite bringing younger and more moderate figures into his cabinet and reducing the military's presence from the streets, the unrest has persisted.

It has been 13 days since protests against a 3.7 percent rise in metro fares first turned violent, exacerbated by what many criticized as a poor and insensitive initial response to the crisis. Piñera's approval ratings are at an all-time low of 14 percent. 

At least 20 people have died amid protests, looting and arson. Demonstrators continued to set buildings on fire and vandalize metro stations this week, and there were few signs that the unrest was easing. 

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