The next United Nations climate change summit appears set to take place in Azerbaijan, a spokesman for the country said Saturday, resolving a bitter, monthslong political standoff over which nation should host the talks in 2024.
Azerbaijan would be the third major oil and gas producer in a row to host the annual U.N. negotiations on tackling global warming, which is largely caused by the burning of fossil fuels. This year’s summit, known as COP28, is being held in the United Arab Emirates, the world’s seventh-largest producer of oil.
Azerbaijan’s government is considered authoritarian by many analysts. Human rights groups have documented widespread corruption and political repression over the 20-year rule of the country’s president, Ilham Aliyev.
The prolonged uncertainty over which country would host the next climate summit has cast a shadow over the current talks in Dubai, as tensions over Russia’s war in Ukraine nearly derailed the ability of diplomats to find a new host. While the nearly 200 countries gathered here are focused on more complex questions like whether and how to curb their use of fossil fuels, the inability to select a site for the next conference loomed as a troubling sign for global cooperation.
By tradition, the U.N. climate summit is supposed to take place in a different part of the world each year. The Eastern European group, which includes former Soviet states, was scheduled to anchor the talks in 2024 and needed to reach a consensus on which of its members would be host. But Russia blocked the selection of any country that had condemned its invasion of Ukraine, vetoing potential candidates like Bulgaria, Slovenia and Moldova.
At the same time, Armenia and Azerbaijan had threatened to veto each other’s bids. In September, Azerbaijan forcibly reclaimed an Armenian-backed enclave, the most recent bout in a long-simmering conflict between the two countries over the disputed territory. Tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians fled an Azerbaijani offensive in what some called an ethnic cleansing.
A breakthrough came Friday when Armenia said it would support Azerbaijan’s bid to host the next climate change conference. While the two countries have not yet reached a formal peace deal, the governments cast the decision as a “gesture of good will” in a joint statement.
Some climate experts hailed the end of the impasse. Over the next two years, countries are supposed to write and submit new, updated national plans to curtail emissions between 2030 and 2035. But without a new host, it was difficult for preparations to get underway.
“It is good that the uncertainty over who will host COP29 is over,” said Kaveh Guilanpour, a vice president at the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions.
Other activists raised concerns about another climate conference being held in an authoritarian nation that gets much of its revenue from oil and gas. The annual summits traditionally feature protests and marches by civil society groups, though those activities have been restricted this year in the politically repressive United Arab Emirates.
David Tong, a campaigner with Oil Change International, a group that is calling for an end to the use of oil and gas, said in a statement that the United Nations must ensure freedom of speech for civil society groups and the media and a “strict conflict of interest” policy on fossil fuels.
“Wherever the climate talks are held next year, the 2,400 fossil fuel lobbyists here must have no place at the next conference,” he said.