Russia intends to block European Union countries from hosting next year’s UN international climate negotiations, according to internal emails seen by Reuters, a potential setback for EU-member Bulgaria’s competition with Azerbaijan and Armenia to draw the massive conference.
Moscow’s intervention shows how geopolitical disputes since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year are complicating global efforts to combat climate change. It also risks delaying a final choice on the host of COP29, which could reduce preparation time for the event.
Bulgaria and non-EU country Armenia had put themselves forward to host the summit, a role that can bring international prestige and the opportunity to promote domestic efforts to combat climate change - along with costs, intense media scrutiny and heavy logistical demands.
Azerbaijan added its name to the running this week.
“Azerbaijan is ready to be the host country for such an important event,” Umayra Taghiyeva, Azerbaijan’s deputy minister of ecology and natural resources, told Reuters on Wednesday in the country’s first public confirmation of its long-speculated bid.
Rights to host the gatherings rotate between the United Nations’ five global regions, with Eastern Europe hosting in 2024. The 23 countries in that region must select their host candidate unanimously. If Russia vetoed all EU countries, then Armenia or Azerbaijan could still be in the running.
EU-member Czech Republic is no longer interested in hosting, but is considering bidding to host a preparatory “pre-COP” event if Bulgaria takes the main summit, a Czech official said on Wednesday.
Russia’s delegation to the UN climate body (the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC) sent an email to other Eastern European country representatives in April in which it said it would not support an EU host.
In the email, which has not been previously reported, Russia’s delegation said EU countries had taken a “politicized” approach to deciding the host country which had resulted in Russian-endorsed candidates being blocked.
“It is reasonable to believe that EU countries, driven by politics from Brussels, do not have the capacity to serve as honest and effective brokers of global climate negotiations under the UNFCCC,” it said.
Russia’s special presidential representative on climate, Ruslan Edelgeriev, declined to confirm if Russia would oppose Bulgaria’s candidacy.
“Bulgaria is not the only candidate to host COP29 in 2024. The issue will be decided in strict accordance with the procedures provided by Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC,” Edelgeriev said in written responses to questions.
The 27-country EU, alongside Western allies including Britain and the United States, has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and slapped sanctions on Moscow over the war.
The Eastern European country group is discussing the issue at a UN meeting this week in Bonn, Germany. All countries would usually then confirm the group’s decision at this year’s COP28 summit, which begins in November.
If the group cannot agree, a fallback option could be to host the event at the UN climate change body’s permanent offices in Bonn - although that would require backing from the German government.
During last year’s UN climate conference, Bulgaria’s president, Rumen Radev, indicated the country would be willing to host the event, and Bulgaria was pressing ahead with its bid in late May with support from other EU countries.
This week, Bulgaria formed a new government, however, which has yet to confirm it still wants to host. Bulgaria’s environment ministry did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
Arzerbaijan and Armenia - neighbouring countries that are in a decades-long dispute over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh - have both confirmed they are also in the running.
“At the moment, we have not been blocked by any country from the Eastern European region,” Emin Garabaghli, head of the international cooperation division in Azerbaijan’s ministry of ecology, told Reuters.
The annual UN climate summits draw tens of thousands of delegates from nearly 200 countries, as well as companies, investors and industry lobbyists.
The United Arab Emirates will host this year’s COP28 conference on behalf of the Asia Pacific group.