When COP25’s Chilean leg was cancelled with 18 days notice, event organisers had to mastermind a total rethink, and GL events were pivotal in the event’s turnaround, Access learns


‘Political unrest’ is always paramount in the list of crises that can stop an event in its tracks. And, when a small rise in public transportation costs represented a breaking point for tensions in Chile, its President Sebastián Piñera announced on 30 October 2019 that his country was cancelling the 25th annual United Nations climate conference as protests escalated into violence and mayhem.

The event, known as the Conference of the Parties or COP 25, was scheduled to be held in the capital Santiago from 2-13 December, and its cancellation came as quite the shock. “I was in Santiago, on site in the Los Cerillos venue, when we received the news that the COP was cancelled,” Maxime Rosenwald, managing director for COP25 for GL events, tells Access. “It was like we were stopped in full flight. It took me a few moments literally to process what I had just heard. We thought ‘What do we do now? Basically, what happens next?’”

The UN acted quickly, and set about finding alternative host cities as the panic set in. Laura Lopez, director, Conference Affairs Services, UNFCCC tells Access: “We realised quickly that there was no time to waste. So we just jumped and acted, because it was literally putting 18 months of work into 18 days. Early on we immediately took stock of what had been done in Chile and how much of that could be lifted and brought over to Spain. It’s kind of a cliché, but teamwork should not be underrated in this. We all pulled together to do something that we didn’t think we could do.”

Rosenwald continues: “At the very start, we didn’t have any details. We heard that a few countries had offered to host COP but it was all a bit hazy.  When we heard that it would be hosted by Madrid, and with the same dates, we were doubtful – extremely doubtful. We are capable of many things, but the magnitude of this challenge made us very apprehensive. We had been involved from the start, defining the technical solutions, and we were working with 80 delegations, as clients, to deliver their spaces. We couldn’t let them down. There was no other option – we had to be in Madrid.”

For GL events, this presented one of its greatest challenges to date. Florian Bernard, GL events’s project director for COP 25, takes up the story: “The challenges were absolutely unique in terms of timescale, the scale of project, its logistical challenges, and crucially in terms of communication and diplomacy. Maintaining close relationships with the Government in Chile and the United Nations, our primary client, was important; also maintaining the good faith of our secondary clients – the governments and agencies of 80 countries around the globe who were attending the event and were relying on GL events to deliver their delegation infrastructure.

“We forged a new relationship of trust with IFEMA in Madrid in just a few weeks, and perhaps most importantly, continued to motivate the 200-strong production team which would now be spread across Santiago and Madrid – a team which had spent five months building an event in Chile, only for the event to be cancelled.”

GL quickly set about finding the right suppliers in Europe to build the newly designed delegation pavilions and offices in Madrid within a two-week window. It moved key members of its delivery taskforce to Madrid, and found additional AV specialists in Europe to join the taskforce. “At this late stage, a big challenge was to integrate them and bring them up to speed. Then there was the physical logistical challenge of transporting AV infrastructure and equipment from Santiago to Madrid.”

GL puts the success of its delivery down to the strict methodologies it follows, which led to achievement at every stage. “Needless to say, GL events’ delivery of events of this scale and profile require exceptional professionalism and expertise. What enabled GL events to deliver the unimaginable in 2019, however, is a combination of factors which typify our approach and set us apart in the global events market,” Scott Jameson, managing director of GL events UK adds.

Rosenwald reflects on the hectic timeline of the event’s logistics that GL managed to fit into immediately after Chile’s cancellation: “Some team members left for Madrid on the UN’s invitation. In those few days, we conducted negotiations that would usually take weeks or months. Everyone said, ‘We have a challenge – let’s rise to it!’. We were very lucky to have a Group that got on board at every level. In Chile, Lyon, and Spain, everyone got involved. The biggest issue was time – we had very little time to put all this together.

What resulted where extremely long hours, as at this point, only ten days remained until the event: “We had to do a very fast yet precise analysis to get the basics right. We were all shaken, but everyone just got on with it. The shared goal for everyone, was to make COP happen.

“The logistical challenge was enormous because a lot of equipment was specifically designed and configured for the COP, so the only option was to bring it from Chile. And to do so, we had to come up with ‘extraordinary’ means, such as chartering a cargo plane. And, everyone helped out – both Chilean and Spanish governments and customs services. It wouldn’t have been possible without them, so that was a huge challenge.

Completely new floor plans were drawn up, and set up in different halls of the venue. Meanwhile, new service providers were found to set up all the offices and pavilions.

For the original COP 25 in Chile, GL events was the principal contractor and was contracted to deliver everything. For the event in Spain, GL events was contracted to deliver delegation pavilions and offices. It also had the main contract to deliver sound, video, IT, IPTV and simultaneous translation. 

Rosenwald continues: “We tried to stick as closely as possible to the plans drawn up for Chile and build in barely ten days what would usually take two to three weeks. In total, we built 12,000sqm of pavilions and offices, and all except 300-400sqm had exactly the same configuration as what was planned for Chile.

“It was an indescribable feeling when we saw everything was ready.  When I saw the screens lit up, and the sound systems working, I felt such emotion. It was a real rollercoaster ride of emotions. It’s part of what we do. It’s part of our nature.”