Amazon summit shows thorny challenge for Brazilian COP30 host city

By Jake Spring and Leonardo Benassatto

BELEM, Brazil (Reuters) – Hosting a United Nations climate summit for tens of thousands of people in any city is a daunting task. Doing it in a part of the Amazon rainforest unaccustomed to hordes of visitors will be even harder.

Belem, a city of 1.3 million in northern Brazil that will host the COP30 climate meeting in 2025, was put to the test during a summit of rainforest nations this week. With roughly half as many hotel beds as the 27,000 summit participants, room rates soared.

But the city expects more than 70,000 for COP30. To deal with the shortage, it may lean on a solution central to life in the Amazon River delta for hundreds of years: boats.

Some delegates may commute daily by boat from nearby islands, while heads of state may stay on cruise ships parked in the harbor, government officials say.

The city plans to complete a diagnostic later this month on all the challenges to be confronted in the two years until the summit, including an inadequate sewage system, dilapidated roadways and threadbare public transit.

“Is the city ready to host an event that big? If it were today, we wouldn’t be,” said Luiz Araujo, who leads the city’s COP30 preparation committee.

The United Nations convenes an annual conference for the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, an event that has taken on more urgency as heat records have fallen and the target of keeping warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius appears to be slipping out of reach. This year’s COP28 will be in late November and December in Dubai.

Brazil has a lot riding on COP30’s success. The meeting will cap a diplomatic U-turn steered by President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, who has vowed to restore Brazil’s standing as a leader on environmental policy after four years of soaring deforestation under his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro.

National development bank BNDES has offered 5 billion reais ($1.02 billion) in financing for projects to prepare Belem for the summit. The state and municipal government as well as private businesses plan to tap into the federal funding.

By the harbor, a row of rundown corrugated metal warehouses is one example of an area where the city is planning a facelift. Closed off for construction this week, signs proclaimed “Port of the Future Here,” with renderings of a modern shopping and entertainment complex.

Farther along the waterfront, the city’s Ver-o-Peso market, famous for selling giant Amazonian river fish, is also set for a government overhaul before COP30.

“What I would like is for the authorities to get their house in order,” said vendor Beth Cheirosinha. “There is a lot that is decayed, a lot abandoned, a lot eaten by moths. We’re going to receive the masses. We need to have a chic place.”

Reuters visited the future COP30 venue in Belem, on the site of an abandoned airport. A massive conference center with manicured grounds will fill the empty lot where workers have only just begun to lay concrete, with plans for the existing runway to remain in place.

With just 17,500 hotel beds currently in the city’s immediate vicinity, Belem plans to double or triple hotel capacity by expanding existing hotels and tapping the surrounding area’s beach and jungle resorts, said Tony Santiago, state head of national hotel association Abih. That may mean bringing in some delegates by boat each day.

Options for private accommodation will also be available on platforms such as Airbnb, he said.

Even then, the city might have difficulty finding accommodations befitting the more than 100 heads of state expected to attend, said Araujo, the city official.

One solution would be to dredge the port so transatlantic oceanliners can enter. Such ships housed authorities when Trinidad and Tobago hosted a Summit of the Americas in 2009.

The city will be the first municipality in the Brazilian Amazon to draw up a comprehensive climate plan, Araujo has said.

Helder Barbalho, governor of Para, where Belem is the state capital, said that COP30 would bring resources to upgrade the below-standard sanitation of nearly a third of the population and swap petrol-burning buses for electric or gas vehicles.

But it would be impossible to resolve everything.

“We don’t want to live in a bubble and pretend that Belem won’t have problems in November 2025,” said Barbalho. “But we understand that we can still present a city with hospitality.”

($1 = 4.90 reais)

(Reporting by Jake Spring and Leonardo Benassatto in Belem; Additional reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia; Editing by Brad Haynes and Rosalba O’Brien)

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