The path has been cleared for petrostate Azerbaijan to hold the next UN COP29 climate summit, after Bulgaria formally withdrew its candidacy in the face of Russian opposition. 

The choice of who will host and preside over next year’s event in the climate conference’s annual rotation has been a subject of constant conjecture at COP28 in Dubai, with the group of eastern European nations at the UN taking their turn to decide the location before a looming December 12 deadline. 
But Russia had said it would veto any bid by a European Union state to play host, in protest over the bloc’s support for Ukraine. 
EU member Bulgaria had nevertheless maintained its candidacy on the basis that COP29 could be distributed among various countries in the 23 strong eastern European group, which also includes Poland, Georgia and Ukraine. 
But in an email sent on Friday to Albania and Slovakia, the co-chairs of the group, Bulgaria said it was “hereby withdrawing its candidature for hosting COP 29”. It would “lend its support for the Republic of Azerbaijan’s candidature”, said the statement seen by the Financial Times. Julian Popov, Bulgaria’s minister of environment and water, said Azerbaijan should still consider hosting the summit in the “most distributed, shared and inclusive manner possible”. 
Officials from the eastern European group signed off on their choice of a COP29 host on Saturday afternoon. The proposal will go to the UN climate arm secretariat, which will then put it to the COP plenary to vote. 
Moldova had also offered itself as a candidate if no other host could be found. But officials involved in the negotiations said Bulgaria’s withdrawal had paved the way for Azerbaijan to take the climate summit, aided by the announcement of peace talks with Armenia following fighting in the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh. 
One official said Russia would be likely to back Baku’s bid as Azerbaijan was “one of the very few countries not critical on Russia”. Another said Moscow was also supportive because Azerbaijan was aligned as a major oil and gas exporter and member of Opec+. While it is not in the top 20 of producers, its economy is heavily dependent on oil and gas exports and counts Italy, Turkey, Georgia and India among its trading partners. 

The United Arab Emirates, hosts of COP28 in Dubai, have come in for criticism for holding a climate conference despite their status as a petrostate. COP28 president Sultan al-Jaber is also head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, but he has maintained that fossil fuel interests must be involved in climate change discussions. 
“Baku will need to work extra hard to demonstrate its commitment to the energy transition — especially given recent gas deals with Russia,” said Linda Kachler, executive director of the Brussels-based think-tank Strategic Perspectives. 
“The world won’t forgive any COP host that prioritises its own economic growth over the world’s safety,” she added. 
Wopke Hoekstra, the EU’s climate commissioner, would not comment on the issue, despite Russia’s bar on bloc members becoming host. He said, however, that Armenia’s backing of Baku was “positive”. 
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said earlier this month: “There are certain problems in getting the conference to Baku. Hopefully, very soon we can find a good resolution to this problem. And that will be another important step towards peace.”