Search By Topic


High Stakes of Cancelling the COP25: Q&A with Anna Zivian

The cancellation of the COP25 in Santiago de Chile, due to recent social movements, took everyone by surprise. Yet, as the global climate emergency escalates, cancelling a COP was not an option. True to its welcoming customs, Spain has generously offered to host the Latin American Climate Conference, redirecting more than 29,000 participants from Santiago de Chile to Madrid. With only 4 weeks of preparation, the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat and the Governments of Chile and Spain have worked against the clock to provide efficient and successful organization of the COP for which governments, businesses, local authorities, NGOs and civil society have high expectations. So far into the first week of the event, the substantive organization for the international gathering has proved to be a success with a majority of formal negotiation agendas, meetings, official UN events, side events and press conferences maintained as planned.

Anna Zivian, is a Senior Research Fellow on Ocean Conservancy’s Science team engaging in and advocating on ocean issues. Anna’s past research focuses on the intersection of environmental policy, science and society. She is also co-chair of the Ocean Knowledge-Action Network Development Team. Zivian is involved in many events at the COP25 with Ocean Conservancy, the Ocean & Climate Platform, the Ocean Knowledge-Action Network, and the Virtual Blue COP25 to bring forward ocean issues in climate action and negotiations.

Q1: What is so important about COPs? And what are the impacts of cancelling a COP?

Conferences of the Parties (COPs) are the mechanism for addressing critical global issues; for the UNFCCC, this is climate change. At a time when it is clear from IPCC reports, including AR5, the Special Report on 1.5C, the Special Report on Climate Change and Land, and the Special Report on Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, it is clear how important it is to increase our ambition to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, Chile has worked with the UNFCCC and the Government of Spain to ensure that the important negotiations at COP25, along with the key scientific work of SBSTA51, continue.

Q2: What are the important negotiations planned to take place at the COP25?

There are important negotiations on several issues, including approaches to international cooperation under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. COP25 also focuses on increasing ambition in countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions, which represent how they plan to meet their climate commitments. We at Ocean Conservancy, the Ocean & Climate Platform, and in the Ocean Knowledge-Action Network are also particularly focused on highlighting the role of the ocean in climate action.

Q3: From an insider perspective, what does it take to organize a conference at a COP?

Organizing a conference at a COP takes planning and persistence. Key elements include developing a topic and finding relevant speakers, determining who can host the conference (for example, the different “pavilions” run by COP members, from governments and institutions like the European Union to organizations like the US Climate Action Network), to applying for a conference slot, to ensure that all speakers have accreditation and are able to participate, and finally, actually running the event. There are also opportunities to organize events that are not formally part of the COP, but that allow civil society to participate in issues that are important to acting on climate change. An example of this is the Virtual Blue COP25, a 24hour live event with seminars, interviews, and performances providing information about the ocean and climate to participants around the world (see

Q4: What do you expect from organizing events and attending negotiations at the COP25?

By organizing events and attending negotiations, I hope we can highlight how important ocean-climate connections are and encourage countries to consider them as they develop their updated NDCs and other climate plans. I also hope we can support the countries, subnational governments, organizations, businesses, and civil society actors that are working to increase ambition.

Q5: What has it been like behind the scenes, from the cancellation of COP25 in Chile to now planning for the rescheduled one in Madrid?

The move has created logistical headaches — for example, I had already booked my ticket to Santiago, and had to change it to get to Madrid. The good part about that, though, is that I was able to make train travel part of my journey, by flying to Lisbon and then traveling on the overnight train from there to Madrid. This is a minor problem, however, compared to those of participants from countries who needed to do last minute visa applications to participate in Spain instead of in Chile, or who could not attend the conference. In addition, it was a bit of a waiting game to see if the new venue would be able to accommodate the already-planned activities. Fortunately, the events I am involved successfully took place at the new venue.

Q6: What are some of your insights from this first week of the COP25?

I am gratified to see the heightened attention on ocean climate issues, including a focus on bringing science to action with several sessions on practical steps countries can take for climate mitigation, adaptation, and building resilience on the coasts and ocean. In addition, several parties have made a submission to the Chilean Presidency that would start a process that would integrate ocean issues into the UNFCCC, which is an important step in making sure that the ocean’s role continues to be considered. I am also glad that so many people are committed to raising ambition for climate action — the half a million participants in the climate march here in Madrid (including many COP attendees) really inspired people in the meeting. It is going to take all of us to continue to pressure and work with decision makers at every level to act ambitiously and quickly to address our climate emergency.

Q7: What do you expect for next week’s climate negotiations?

Negotiations are difficult, prolonged, and complex. But I hope that the Chilean Presidency, with the support of other nations, can achieve its goals of increasing ambition and attain positive outcomes on several key areas of negotiation, including the ocean.