NOEL KING, HOST:
Today, the 25th U.N. Climate Change Conference, called COP25, starts in Spain's capital, Madrid. The conference was supposed to be in Chile, but there were big street protests over the economy there, so Spain stepped up. Reporter Guy Hedgecoe is in Madrid.
GUY HEDGECOE, BYLINE: The buildup to the COP25 has already been eventful. The last-minute change of host city from the Chilean capital to the Spanish one has added an element of drama to the event. What's more, that change of venue was decided just as the United States was formalizing its withdrawal from the 2016 Paris Agreement on climate change. The Spanish environment minister, Teresa Ribera, said that her country's offer to host the conference was a demonstration of multilateralism to counter the U.S. withdrawal.
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TERESA RIBERA: (Speaking Spanish).
HEDGECOE: "With the discouragement caused by the withdrawal from the Paris Accord of one of the biggest economies on the planet," she said, "it was important that the international community found a way to resolve the challenge created by Chile's inability to host the conference."
The change of venue has also affected teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg. She was in the United States preparing to travel overland to Chile for the summit when it was announced that Madrid would host it instead. She has raced back across the Atlantic on a catamaran in order to attend.
Much of the conference will revolve around the framework of the Paris Agreement, which seeks to keep global temperature rises to well below 2 degrees centigrade. David Waskow, director of the International Climate Initiative at the World Resources Institute, is hoping the summit will see countries signal their increased commitment to concrete and ambitious strategies for the reduction of emissions, something they are expected to formalize in 2020.
DAVID WASKOW: I think this has to be a can-do climate summit. And we've seen that kind of can-do spirit from Spain and Chile working together. And now is the moment to highlight that countries have a can-do approach to strengthening their action under the Paris Agreement next year and also finalizing the last parts of the implementing rules so that those can go into full effect. That's the core of what the climate talks and all the process around it in Madrid can achieve.
HEDGECOE: But one big question going into this climate conference will be, who is willing to take the lead on the international stage? With two major economies, the United States and Brazil, stepping back from their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there is a vacancy for an international leader.
LARA LAZARO: In terms of state, I don't believe it's going to be easy to see one leader. It is more likely to see some form of distributed leadership.
HEDGECOE: Lara Lazaro is a professor of political economy of climate change in Madrid's IE University.
LAZARO: For example, the EU, that has been a directional leader - leading by example, setting itself tough goals and showing other countries that it can be done - along with countries like China and perhaps also teaming up with Latin America. And here, Spain could be a bridge-builder.
HEDGECOE: These kinds of events all too often fall short of expectations. But environmental activists will be watching the COP25 with a critical eye, hoping that it will lead to genuine progress in battling climate change.
For NPR News, I'm Guy Hedgecoe in Madrid.
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