COP25 - The UN climate talks are over for another year without concrete action plans
16 December 2019 | Mitigation
Governments at the UN climate talks in Madrid responded to the growing urgency of the crisis with a partial admission that carbon-cutting targets are too weak, but few concrete plans to strengthen them in line with the Paris agreement.
Two weeks of talks ended on Sunday afternoon with a formal recognition of the need to bridge the gap between greenhouse gas targets set in 2015 in Paris and scientific advice that says much deeper cuts are needed. Current targets would put the world on track for 3C of warming, which scientists say would ravage coastal cities and destroy agriculture over swathes of the globe.
Few countries came up with new targets at these talks, and the hope is that next year there will be more. Strong public and political pressure will be needed, participants acknowledged, as these talks were characterised by squabbling over technical details. Brazil, Australia, the US, China and other major emitters were all accused of holding up progress.
The snail’s pace and low ambition of the talks stood in stark contrast to pleas from activists, who staged a 500,000-strong march through the Spanish capital. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish school striker, said the last year of protests had “achieved nothing” as countries were still failing to bring forward the measures needed.
Chema Vera, the 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.”
Helen Mountford, a vice-president for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute, said: “These talks reflect how disconnected country leaders are from the urgency of the science and the demands of their citizens in the street. The can-do spirit that birthed the Paris agreement feels like a distant memory today. Instead of leading the charge for greater ambition, most major emitters have been missing in action.”
During the talks, governments were reminded continually that the world is far off meeting the pledge made in Paris to hold global heating to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels, regarded by scientists as the outer limit of safety.
Small island states repeatedly stressed that the climate crisis was happening now, with sea level rises, fiercer storms, floods and droughts already causing devastation. Bushfires in Australia and extreme weather around the world in recent months have added to the signals of a growing emergency.
Research published during the two weeks of talks showed that greenhouse gas emissions have risen 4% since the Paris accord was signed in 2015, and the world will need to cut carbon by more than 7% a year in the next decade to heed scientific advice.
This conference was not expected to produce a major breakthrough on new emissions targets, but it was hoped that a spirit of cooperation and a resolution to act would set the stage for higher ambition next year.
Instead, even minor issues such as the role of carbon markets – mechanisms by which countries can sell carbon credits, based on their emissions-cutting efforts – and the financial assistance needed for poor countries to cope with the impacts of climate chaos were all put off until next year after consensus proved elusive.
Those questions will return to encumber next year’s talks, where the decks were supposed to have been cleared to focus on emissions cuts. Some countries – chiefly Brazil, but also including China, India and the US – were blamed for using these technicalities to hold up wider progress, in a sign of how difficult next year’s talks will be.
The EU came up with the strongest new plan, finally agreeing a bloc-wide goal of reaching net-zero carbon by 2050. Scores of smaller countries agreed similar long-term targets, but other major emitters held back.
There was widespread recognition that long-term targets are not enough, and the pressure is now on to forge a short-term climate plan for the next 10 years. The UK will play a leading role as host of a November 2020 conference in Glasgow, but with the US set on withdrawal from the Paris accord and many major economies seemingly unwilling to show much ambition, it will face an uphill struggle.
“The UK now has a gargantuan task of overseeing a successful climate summit in Glasgow next year,” said Katherine Kramer, the global climate lead at Christian Aid. “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.”
What was the conference?
Governments met under the UN for two weeks of talks in Madrid aimed at forging a new response to the climate crisis. More than 190 nations and blocs, from the US, China and the EU to the smallest island states, were represented.
What did they hope to achieve?
Ambitions for this conference were limited because many countries were focused on narrow technical details such as the workings of the global carbon markets, by which countries can buy and sell carbon credits based on their emissions-cutting efforts. It was hoped that countries would resolve to work on more ambitious carbon targets needed to fulfil the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement.
Did they do it?
No. Most of the technical details were carried over to be discussed again next year. There was a recognition that tougher carbon targets are needed globally, but few countries came up with any and the resolve to come back next year with more ambitious plans was worded too weakly to satisfy most campaigners.
What happens next?
The UK will host a conference in Glasgow next November aimed at strengthening countries’ climate plans in line with the Paris agreement. But based on the squabbling and blocking tactics used by many countries at COP25, it will face an uphill struggle.
Source: The Guardian