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Chile has pulled out of hosting the upcoming COP25 climate change talks due to civil unrest in the country, the UN's climate chief said Wednesday.
The move casts serious doubt over whether the talks, originally set for December 2-13 in Santiago, can now go ahead.
"Earlier today, I was informed of the decision by the Government of Chile not to host COP25 in view of the difficult situation that the country is undergoing," UN climate change executive secretary Patricia Espinosa said.
"We are currently exploring alternative hosting options," she said in a statement.
Chile has also been forced to cancel the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November, according to media reports Wednesday, after the country has faced 12 days of mass public demonstrations linked to economic inequality.
The COP25 talks -- the 25th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change -- were set to include representatives from almost 200 countries, who are working on agreeing rules to put into operation the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
The APEC summit was due to bring together 20 world leaders including US President Donald Trump and the Chinese president Xi Jinping -- seen as a potential venue for talks to ease trade tensions between the two giant economies.
Many of the mass protests in Chile over recent days have been peaceful. But they have also led to clashes between protestors and security forces, as well as incidents of arson, which led to at least 20 deaths and thousands of arrests, according to media reports.
Chile's decision not to host the two summits is therefore likely due to concerns over its ability to guarantee the safety of attendees at the two major events, which would normally be expected to attract tens of thousands of delegates.
Chile has the highest inequality level among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, according to the group's data, despite a fall in poverty and rising wages in recent years.
A carbon market observer said Chile's cancellation at such short notice means COP25 is unlikely to now go ahead this year, unless its organizing body, the UNFCCC, can quickly arrange for the event to take place at its secretariat in Bonn, Germany.
"More likely I think is either a Q1  COP, or a mid-year COP in Bonn that would replace the inter-sessional meeting," the source said Wednesday.
Chile's cancellation as COP25 host suggests the international climate negotiating process will be subject to delays in 2019 and 2020, while the UN seeks alternative arrangements.
The COP26 talks in November 2020 are set to be hosted by the UK, taking place in Glasgow, Scotland.
-- Frank Watson, firstname.lastname@example.org
-- Edited by James Burgess, email@example.com