As UN climate negotiations came to an end last week, we round up what really happened at the 25th climate conference in Madrid (COP25) and who the key players were
After the two-week conference was extended for an extra two days, a compromise deal was agreed with delegates approving the need to curb carbon emissions globally. However, addressing key issues such as carbon markets under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement have been postponed until COP26.
A poor response to the climate crisis
Research published during the COP25 negotiations stated that since the Paris Agreement was signed, greenhouse gas emissions have risen 4%. If countries are to heed to scientific advice and keep warming below 2C, they will need to cut carbon emissions by more than 7% a year in the next decade.
The talks at COP25 were not predicted to produce major breakthroughs on new emissions targets, but it was thought that there would be more willingness for nations to cooperate and find a resolution that would set the stage for increased ambition next year.
Elliot Whittington, director of the European Corporate Leaders Group said:
“COP25 has been mired in the politics of low ambition that seek to serve individual agendas in a way that is totally out of step with the urgent need for collective action.”
The compromise deal seemed to be lacking ambition and imagination, much to Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg’s dismay. The 16-year old led a demonstration of over 500,000 people through Madrid while COP25 talks were happening. She said the last year of protests had “achieved nothing” and criticised governments for not pushing for greater change “there is hope – I’ve seen it – but it does not come from the governments or corporations, it comes from the people.
Chema Vera, interim executive director of Oxfam International, said:
“The world is screaming out for action but this summit responded with a whisper. The poorest nations are in a sprint for survival, yet many governments have barely moved from the starting blocks. Instead of committing to more ambitious cuts in emissions, countries have argued over technicalities.”
The use of Article 6
Although current targets agreed globally would mean the world is on track for 3C of warming, which scientists agree would destroy coastal cities and agricultural land around the globe, delegates failed to address the key aim of COP25, carbon markets under Article 6.
Article 6 under the Paris Agreement was designed to allow developing countries to sell their unused pollution allowance to heavy polluting developed countries that exceed targets. Those that exceeded pollution levels would be financially punished. However there were uncertainties in how carbon markets would be implemented and regulated in the discussions at COP25 and it was agreed that this issue would be visited next year in Glasgow at COP26. The lack of progress in Article 6 is widely seen as a failure for COP25 in Madrid.
While it is important not to rush negotiations in order to set the right rules in place, it is also important to agree on a set of rules as soon as possible in order for countries to start implementing solutions to address their impacts on climate change.
Vice president for climate and economics at World Resources Institute, Helen Mountford, said:
“There is no sugarcoating it, the negotiations fell far short of what was expected. Instead of leading the charge for more ambition, most of the large emitters were missing in action or obstructive.
“This reflects how disconnected many national leaders are from the urgency of the science and the demands of their citizens. They need to wake up in 2020.”
Costa Rica’s minister for energy and environment, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, blamed Brazil, the US and Australia for the lack of progress in Article 6. He claimed the countries insisted on language unacceptable to most countries.
What about the big players?
Only a select number of countries devised new targets at COP25, with many promising they will deliver more during COP26. Those accused of holding up progress included Australia, the US, Japan China, Brazil and other major emitters.
Emission-cutting incentives are clearly needed to curb carbon emissions, but whether agreed targets will be effective is another question. Even though 20 of the world’s largest economies account for 75% of all greenhouse gas emissions, most have refused to increase their carbon curbing ambitions required under the Paris Agreement at this years COP.
United States at COP25
Despite Donald Trump withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, delegates from the US still made an appearance. However the US, along with Australia were reluctant to make progress and continue to prioritise fossil fuel and agribusiness profits over the well-being of their citizens. Similarly Canada are still continuing to approve fossil fuel infrastructure projects that do not align with the Paris Agreement.
Japan at COP25
Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise in wealthy countries such as the US, exacerbating climate change issues. Japan admitted at COP25 that it is planning to build more coal fired power plants and export coal generator.
In a press conference at COP25, Shinjiro Koizumi, Japan’s environment minister said:
“In Japan, coal power is not seen as problematic as the international community does. There is a plan to build coal-fired plants in Japan, but with that fact in mind I have some complex feelings about attending COP25.”
Although all countries need to act on the climate crisis, there is nothing is place to compel countries to comply. International adaption and mitigation on climate change is voluntary and self-driven within countries. Hence why the talks in Madrid at COP25 were framed in terms of ‘ambition’ rather than ‘obligation’.
The EU at COP25
The EU were praised for devising the strongest new plan, where nations agreed a bloc-wide goal of reaching net-zero carbon by 2050. Similar long-term targets were designed by smaller countries, but other major emitters held back. Although long-term targets are a step in the right direction, there is increasing pressure for countries to focus on a short-term climate plan for the next 10 years.
As COP26 is set to be held in Glasgow, the UK will play a leading role and will have to put climate change targets and policies in place to send a message to the global stage. However, with the US set to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and many major economies seemingly unwilling to show much ambition, it will face an uphill struggle.
Global climate lead at Christian Aid, Katherine Kramer, commented:
“The UK now has a gargantuan task of overseeing a successful climate summit in Glasgow next year. That meeting is supposed to be the moment the world responds to the climate crisis by strengthening the pledges made in the Paris agreement. To avoid failure, the UK will need to put its own house in order, in creating and implementing policies to rapidly reduce its own emissions.”
Australia at COP25
Australian forests are currently burning at an alarming rate, yet the Australian government pushed for less ambition climate targets. Their plans would also see flow-on effects weaken the ambition of other countries. Analysis of the Kyoto Protocol and Article 6 revealed that if Brazil, Australia and China used their ‘Kyoto units’ to meet the Paris Agreement targets, the ambition to transition to a new energy system would decrease by 25%. Despite many countries opposing this weakening at COP25 Madrid, the issue remains unresolved, with talks being carried into next years COP26.
Denmark at COP25 – a glimmer of hope
Denmark is one of the few countries that stood out amongst a disappointing climate summit. The Danish parliament agreed on a Climate Law which included a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030. The law is binding for the current of future governments and is in line with the Paris Agreement target of limiting warming to 1.5C.
Bad news for world forests and oceans at COP25
If deforestation continues at the rate it does today, it will take less than 100 years for all rainforests to disappear and with deforestation contributing to between 12-17% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, immediate action is needed. It was hoped tackling deforestation would be a key priority at COP25, however this was not the case.
Forest conservation was not incentivised as part of the carbon market discussions under Article 6. This can be seen as a possible lapse apparently backed by Brazil and the government of Jair Bolsonaro, who has plans to develop the Amazon basin, which is a vital source of carbon sequestration and key for combating climate change.
COP25 at Madrid also failed to address the UN biomass carbon accounting loophole. This loophole allows nations to convert obsolete coal plants to burn biomass to produce energy and this being accounted for as ‘zero emission energy’, equivalent to solar and wind. Scientists have warned that buring biomass to produce energy could actually be worse than burning coal.
What about the ocean?
Although Madrid’s COP25 was also known as the ‘Blue COP’, nations failed to set any real targets. Ocean campaigners have highlighted the importance of ocean ecosystems and the need to stop overfishing and fertilisers and plastics entering the oceans. Achieving this is not only key to protect ecosystems ocean biodiversity but it will also benefit the 1 billion people whose livelihoods depend on heathy oceans. Oceans also have the ability to regulate global climate, helping to counteract the uneven distribution of solar radiation reaching Earth’s surface.
COP25 did highlight the fact that the climate and ocean are inextricably linked and climate change threats cannot be reduced without preserving and restoring a healthy ocean. There was a ‘Blue Leaders’ event at COP25 where leaders from countries including Chile, Peru, Germany, Sweden and Costa Rica met to share discuss two major goals: protecting 30% of the oceans by 2030 and a new treaty to improve conservation and management of the high seas. These policies did not make it past the discussion stage and political commitment is needed for the plans to be implemented.
On a more positive note…
Although Madrid COP25 was a poor response to the climate crisis, 80 countries have already stated their intentions to enhance their climate pledges in 2020 and more than 175 companies committed to set science based targets. Similarly, a number of private sector companies, cities and regions have signed the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment.
The commitment calls for urgent, courageous and immediate climate action towards decarbonising the built environment.
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