Brazil has withdrawn its offer to host the annual UN climate summit next year, citing budgetary constraints and the transition to a new government.
The U-turn follows last month’s election of Jair Bolsonaro as president, ushering in an administration sceptical of globalism and action to tackle climate change.
The government sent a message to UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa on Monday, explaining its decision, according to Brazilian newspaper O Globo.
“Taking into account fiscal and budgetary constraints, which are most likely to continue in the near future, and in view of the transition process for the newly elected administration, which will be inaugurated on January 1, 2019, the Brazilian government is obliged to withdraw the offer to host the Cop25,” the statement reportedly said.
A spokesperson for UN Climate Change confirmed Espinosa had received the message by phone call.
It throws the venue and leadership of next year’s UN climate conference, usually held in November or December, into doubt. Under the UN system of regional rotation, it is the turn of Latin America and the Caribbean to host.
Brazil’s bid for the presidency of Cop25 was only approved by the regional group in October, after an internal dispute with Venezuela was resolved. It is not clear whether any other countries in the region are ready and willing to take over the responsibility at such short notice.
The fallback option is to hold talks at the UN’s climate headquarters in Bonn, Germany. In 2017, Fiji took the political leadership of the summit, but it was physically located in Bonn, with logistical support from the German government.
Bolsonaro was elected on a far-right platform that included slashing environmental protections and opening the Amazon to logging, farming and mining. He threatened to pull Brazil out of the Paris Agreement but softened his stance under international pressure.
This month, he appointed a foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo, who has accused leftwingers of appropriating causes like climate change “to serve their political project of total domination”.
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro is the environmental story of 2018.
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Guy Edwards, Latin America expert and co-director of Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab, said: “Brazil’s decision to withdraw its offer to host Cop25 is troubling news as it confirms the incoming Bolsonaro administration is not interested in climate change or international cooperation. Those behind this decision failed to realize that efforts to advance global climate change governance has been the most successful area of Brazil’s foreign policy in recent years.”
While acknowledging the price tag of around $100 million to host a summit was “a daunting prospect”, Edwards said the government could have mustered support from the private sector and EU. It was a missed opportunity to showcase progress on clean energy and sustainable agriculture, and attract investment in those sectors, he argued.
Climate Observatory, a network of green campaign groups in Brazil, said in a statement the decision not to host Cop25 was “regrettable, but not surprising”.
Only a few weeks ago, it noted, the outgoing Temer administration celebrated the presidency of the summit as a sign of “the country’s global leadership on sustainable development issues”.
“Brazil steps down from its own role in the world in one of the few areas where the country is not only relevant, but also necessary: the fight against global climate change,” wrote the campaign network.
“As international climate leadership vanishes, so do business opportunities, investments and jobs. By ignoring the climate agenda, the federal government also fails to protect the population, exposed to a growing number of climate extremes. Those, unfortunately, will keep on happening even if some people doubt their cause.”