One After Another, Russia Blocks Candidates to Host Next Climate Summit

At the annual United Nations climate summit, governments are supposed to reach a consensus around how to avert catastrophic climate change.

So far, they can’t even agree on where to hold next year’s conference.

Tensions over Russia’s war in Ukraine have hampered the ability of diplomats meeting in the United Arab Emirates for this year’s summit, known as COP28, to find a location for 2024.

Under U.N. rules, the location of the summit rotates among regions and countries within those regions must agree on the host.

Next year it is scheduled to take place in Eastern Europe or the Caucasus — both of which have been battered by war. Russia has blocked nearly every viable candidate in the region, effectively holding next year’s event hostage.

The latest impasse came on Friday when Azerbaijan won the blessing of its neighbor and longtime foe, Armenia, to host the summit — only to be blocked by Russia hours later, according to European diplomats.

Observers called the inability of nations to select a host for next year a troubling sign for efforts to find global consensus on the far more serious issue of tackling climate change.

“Russia just wants to be a troublemaker on everything in the international setting,” said Jake Schmidt, the senior strategic director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. “I can’t ever remember us not being able to find a location for the next meeting.”

While the next summit is still a year away, the selection of the host country is made well in advance because it takes months of preparation to hold a productive summit. The current host, the U.A.E., began its work in 2021.

It’s also logistically challenging. The annual “conference of parties,” or COP, as it is commonly known, has ballooned in recent years into a spectacle, requiring facilities and infrastructure. This is the 28th year (thus COP28), and Dubai has more than 100,000 registered attendees.

Most Eastern European countries have strongly condemned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and have joined Western powers in imposing stiff sanctions in response to the invasion. Russia, in turn, has used various U.N. forums, like the COP, to strike back.

It has so far blocked Bulgaria, Slovenia and Moldova from hosting next year’s summit and is unlikely to approve any country in the European Union.

When Azerbaijan threw its hat in the ring, it was initially opposed by its neighbor Armenia, which put in a bid of its own. Turkey, which is not considered by the U.N. to be part of the set of countries expected to host next year’s climate talks, also voiced a willingness to host.

Then on Friday, after Armenia’s unexpected endorsement of Azerbaijan, it suddenly seemed that a consensus candidate had emerged.

A statement from the prime minister’s office in Armenia said that as a good-will measure to repair relations between the two warring countries, it would release two Azerbaijani soldiers and endorse its bid to host COP29 in exchange for 32 of its own soldiers held by Azerbaijan. Bulgaria prepared to drop its bid. Azerbaijani diplomats were congratulating one another.

But hours later on Friday, Russia vetoed Azerbaijan and countries were back to square one.

Julian Popov, Bulgaria’s environment minister, called the situation “absurd.”

“You can’t have a position in which one member can block the entire process,” Mr. Popov said.

If countries cannot agree on a host for 2024, the summit will default to Germany under the rules of the U.N. climate body. It could also be held in the United Arab Emirates for a second year, but that appears unlikely. Sultan Al Jaber, the Emirati oil executive who is presiding over the summit and has been widely criticized by environmental activists, has indicated that he is not eager to take on the mantle again, according to one person familiar with his thinking.

“This is a unique situation,” said Alden Meyer, a strategic adviser at E3G, an environmental research group, adding, “It’s amazing we can make any progress on climate.”

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