DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Bulgaria has withdrawn its bid to host next year’s global climate summit, clearing the way for the conference to take place in oil-rich Azerbaijan.
Bulgarian Environment Minister Julian Popov told POLITICO that the country was sending its letter of withdrawal on Friday evening, one day after Armenia gave up on its aspirations to host COP29 and backed Baku.
“In the spirit of goodwill and for the sake of a successful climate conference hosted by the Eastern European Group, the Republic of Bulgaria is hereby withdrawing its candidature for hosting COP29,” a statement subsequently sent by the Bulgarian environment ministry said. “We therefore lend our support for the Republic of Azerbaijan’s candidature.”
On Thursday, before the decision was announced, Popov told POLITICO in an interview: “Our position is that we care about the process. The moment we are convinced that if we withdraw the process will benefit, we will do that.”
Baku’s bid still requires formal approval from other countries. But Azerbaijan is now the only remaining candidate to host COP29 — meaning the climate summit is likely heading to a petrostate for two years in a row.
This year’s host, the United Arab Emirates, is the world’s seventh-largest oil producer. Azerbaijan doesn’t rank in the top 20 — but the country and its autocratic regime are heavily dependent on oil and gas sales, which make up more than 90 percent of its exports.
“Again an oil country,” texted one disappointed official from an Eastern European country. “The world will never go green.”
Baku is also likely to receive Russia’s backing, breaking a political deadlock that left COP29 — a major summit where countries will negotiate a new financial target to support developing nations — in limbo for months.
The conference rotates between the United Nations’ five regional groups, and Eastern Europe is up next year. But Russia blocked European Union countries like Bulgaria from hosting in apparent retaliation for Brussels sanctioning Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
At the same time, Armenia and Azerbaijan — which fought a war that saw Baku retake the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region this summer — vetoed each other’s candidacies. The 23-country Eastern European bloc has to find consensus, with all U.N. climate conference member countries later rubber-stamping the group’s decision. The Eastern European bloc’s next meeting takes place on Saturday.
Initially, negotiations in Dubai did little to break the impasse, prompting last-minute offers from other countries, including Serbia and Moldova.
But the two warring neighbors struck an agreement on Thursday as part of broader efforts toward a peace deal. In a joint statement, Armenia said it would back Azerbaijan’s COP29 bid and both countries said they would release prisoners of war.
The statement said both countries “do hope that the other countries within the Eastern European group will also support Azerbaijan’s bid to host.” Earlier on Friday, Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Aykhan Hajizada, said: “Russia has also supported our bid.”
The EU welcomed the agreement, with European Council President Charles Michel praising the development as a “major breakthrough.” The bloc has been buying more gas from Azerbaijan over the past year to break its dependence on Russian fossil fuels.
The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which was largely inhabited by ethnic Armenians before this year’s conflict forced tens of thousands to flee their homes, will nevertheless loom over COP29, should Baku be confirmed as host.
In the Azeri pavilion at COP28 in Dubai, the country highlighted efforts to invest in renewables and nature. A screen in the center of the showroom displayed a series of slides, with one stating: “Karabakh is the first region in Azerbaijan to achieve ‘net zero.’”
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