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COP25 Dispatch: When Climate Action and Domestic Civil Unrest Meet

I was very excited when it was announced that COP25 would take place in my home country, Chile. I felt an immense sense of national pride to see my country organizing and hosting such an important conference. My excitement quickly faded with the abrupt news that Chile would no longer be able to host COP25 due to the civil unrest and continued violence in the nation. These protests have been a long time coming as neoliberal economic and social policies have heightened injustices and inequalities, deepening the socioeconomic divide. With the conference now taking place in Madrid it would seem that the Chilean protests are far from these negotiations. Yet, quite the opposite seems to be occurring.

Due to the exploitation of resources by the industrialized agricultural sector and mining industries, along with the privatized water system, Chile has been experiencing a historically severe drought. This has not only instigated a water crisis in the region but has also left many sacrifice zones—triggered by the neoliberal, exploitative policies perpetuated by the Chilean government. Although the current protests began as a result of the price increase of metro fares, the environmental injustices are unequivocally linked to the mounting civil unrest and discontentment with the government.

As an attendee of the Chilean delegation civil society meeting I was curious to see how these realities would come together. After all Carolina Schmidt, COP25 President, stated in a recent interview, “The social and environmental crises are two sides of the same coin. You cannot face one without taking care of the other.”

The meeting had a tense atmosphere to it, with many NGO members and other observers quick to comment on the inadequacies of the Chilean government. For one, a member of Sociedad Civil de Acción Climatica, was received with immense support as he asserted his adamant disapproval of the recent statement made by President Piñera being in support of the actions being taken at COP25. He felt that Piñera shouldn’t be recognized as a pillar or leader of climate action, especially when his administration’s abuse of human rights are being questioned as the protests and violence continue.

Moreover, there were a few complaints about the lack of true action after 25 years of COPs and non-binding treaties. Meeting members were quick to point out the continued and prominent environmental injustices still occurring in Chile—with the town of Quintero, a sacrifice zone, as a prime example—despite the appearance of climate leadership at COP.

With COP25 in full force and the gruesome realities of the violence taking place in Chile, it will be interesting to see how these realities continue forward and how they will become linked as the nation’s outcry becomes louder and louder.

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