We went into the twenty-fifth Conference of the Parties (COP25) in Madrid feeling the energy of the thousands of youth strikers who have been rallying for climate action for the last year. In fact, on December 6, 500,000 people took to the streets in Madrid to demand action and higher climate ambitions from countries around the world. However, this energy was ultimately not reflected in the negotiation rooms at COP25. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, with the results of COP25, we “lost an important opportunity” to take action on the climate crisis.
COP25 could have ended with a clear mandate for countries to submit enhanced commitments (“Nationally-Determined Contributions” or NDCs) in 2020, when they are to either submit a new NDC or re-submit their first NDC. It could have ended with strong international carbon market rules that guaranteed emissions reductions and proceeds set aside for the most vulnerable among us.
Instead, several important decisions that were expected to be resolved in Madrid were pushed to next year’s COP26, and no major emitters seized the opportunity to step up and be a leader on NDC enhancement and ambition-raising.
Under the COP21 decision text that accompanies the Paris Agreement, countries are “requested” to either submit a new NDC or re-submit their existing or updated NDC by 2020, depending on the timeline of their original commitment. COP25 was the last chance to request that those 2020 submissions be “enhanced” – i.e., be made more ambitious. What we saw instead was a complete lack of ambition. No country (save for the Marshall Islands) was willing to step up and be the first to announce their NDC enhancement, or even stand firm in demanding that all agree to do so.
One of the most important (and tricky) pieces of this year’s COP was setting the terms of the Paris Agreement’s Article 6, which deals with international cooperation and markets for trading emissions, where wealthier nations meet part of their goals by supporting emissions-reducing efforts in other countries. Lots of different countries have lots of different feelings about this piece of the Paris Agreement, and things get complicated fast.
Some countries want old credits from a similar mechanism set up under the Kyoto Protocol from COP3 to be carried over. Some countries want to ensure the inclusion of language on human rights. And no one can seem to reach a consensus.
In the end, negotiators decided to push this discussion yet again to next year’s COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. Though disappointing, some say that no deal is better than a bad deal, which could potentially lead to things like double counting emissions, human rights violations, and more.
One of the most contentious issues discussed at COP25 was the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM), which addresses how to help countries with the “loss and damage” for already-realized climate impacts in the developing world.
This mechanism was originally proposed in 2013, but has not yet garnered much momentum.
Discussions this year were around whether the WIM should be incorporated under the Paris Agreement or the general COP of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The US pushed strongly for it to remain under the general COP, so that it may continue to block any claims of liability or compensation. But many other countries would like it to report jointly to the COP and the Paris Agreement.
Tensions between the UNFCCC and civil society organizations were also running high at COP25.
Climate Action Network-International had its longstanding COP newsletter “ECO,” as well as their “Fossil of the Day,” banned for part of the conference. They worked hard with the UNFCCC to ultimately reinstate both.
Things escalated further when around 200 civil society representatives participated in an unregistered protest within the COP venue to demand action from negotiators. All participants were removed from the venue and de-badged. Once again, civil society representatives worked closely with UNFCCC representatives to get these folks reinstated.
And that was just at the COP25 venue itself. Several hundred thousand marched on the streets of Madrid on December 6.
What’s clear is that the negotiations were not in any way reflective of the public will. The people’s position on climate action is clear, yet just a few hundred negotiators inside the COP were working against those marchers’ demands.
The UNFCCC process itself requires unanimous consensus for adoption of decisions, and many major emitters – the United States, China, Brazil, Australia, and Japan, among others – were not on board for many issues. When powerful nations with lots of resources (particularly the US and China) do not support the process, the process breaks.
The current US government has no interest in pursuing climate action – polluters are the favored class there. China’s emissions rose in 2019 as they stimulated industry to pump up the economy. Brazilian leaders are peddling conspiracy theories as the Amazon Rainforest burns.
The European Commission did put forward a plan during COP25 for reaching a 50 percent emissions reduction by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. But it also recognizes the large spending gap that exists to achieve Europe’s current goal of a 40 percent reduction by 2030. Plus, the politics of getting 28 independent member states on board are extremely fraught.
So, where do we go from here?
Most countries will still submit new NDCs in 2020 or confirm their existing commitments – but a key one, the US, is in the process of leaving the Paris Agreement. A synthesis report examining the collective impact of NDCs will be ready for COP26 – but we know it won’t have any good news.
However, this is just one process – and like we said, the will of the people is clear and strong. So what can you do?
Get involved in any way you can. Demand more ambition from not only your country, but from your cities and states, the businesses in your community, and even from yourself. Keep marching in the streets so that our collective voice gets louder and louder.
Be ambitious. It’s our only choice.
Learn more about how you can take action in your community by becoming a Climate Reality Leader. The application for our March training event in Las Vegas is now open, and you can sign up to be the first to know when the applications for our other 2020 trainings (in San Antonio, Texas; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Detroit, Michigan) are available.
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