Analysis: COP25 fails to impress


A sombre mood during the COP25 negotiations in Madrid. Photo credit: IN Climate Change via Flickr.

By Anders Lorenzen

COP25 was originally scheduled to be hosted in Brazil but was marred by controversy, poor leadership and the failure of big emitters to commit to ambition from the start.

First Brazil pulled out of hosting it due to its climate-denying administration led by populist far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro. Chile then offered to host instead, but also had to pull out in the last minute due to unrest in the country, before Spain at the eleventh hour offered to let it be hosted in Madrid with Chile still the ‘acting host’.

With all the changes, this COP never felt like it was serious about bridging the gaps to tackle climate change and the fact that the summit was sponsored by the world’s largest oil majors made unwelcome headlines for the hosts. 

The eventual summit in Madrid also set a new record of having the longest extension during its final few days of negotiation; it has become a tradition for COPs not to complete within the Friday deadline, but this year we had to wait until Sunday evening before the agreement was reached, weak as it was.

COP25 was always going to be a test for major governments as it would invariably shine a light on how seriously they took the climate crisis in a year in which it has dominated world media headlines, with 16-year-old Swedish climate activist in Greta Thunberg becoming a household name and scientists have increasingly warned that action is needed now to avoid irreversible tipping points.

But people wishing to decisive measures and proactive action against climate change will have been sorely disappointed, as the eventual draft agreement only included a declaration stating an ‘urgent need’ to close the gap between existing emissions pledges and the goals set out in the 2015 landmark climate agreement, the Paris Agreement. 

UN’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres could not hide his disappointment and delegates voiced frustration about major emitters Brazil, China, Australia, Saudi Arabia and the United States has led the resistance to bolder action.

As always with COPs, language is everything in the final agreement. Campaigners and developing countries had wanted to see much more ambition and spelling out the importance of countries, especially the large emitters, setting out bolder emission cuts pledges as we enter the crucial Paris implementation phase in 2020.

The progress in Madrid became stuck around the rules which should govern international carbon trading which is the approach favoured by wealthy countries to reduce the costs of cutting emissions. No agreement was reached and it has been deferred to next year in Glasgow. Another divisive point was the issue of climate finance, this is the money given by wealthy countries to poorer countries to help them deal with the impacts of climate change. The small island state of Tuvalu accused the US of blocking progress. “There are millions of people all around the world who are already suffering from the impacts of climate change. Denying this fact could be interpreted by some to be a crime against humanity,” Ian Fry, Tuvalu’s representative, told delegates.

All eyes will now be on the UK and newly re-elected Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the hosts of next year’s COP the UK government will not only face the challenge of upping their green credentials before the summit to show they’re serious about climate action but also the unenviable task of persuading countries to submit more ambitious plans to cut carbon emissions.

While the UN Secretary was disappointed in the outcome, he was defiant regardless stating: “The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis. We must not give up and I will not give up.” 

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, leader of WWF’s global climate and energy practice said about what was achieved: “We know what has to be done, and we have run out of time for backtracking or debate. 2020 must be different and we will fight even harder for people and nature. Governments will return home to face increasing frustrations from youth movements, citizens and vulnerable communities suffering from the impacts of the climate crisis, and will have to answer to them.” 

Helen Mountford, Vice President for Climate and Economics, World Resources Institute was brutally honest in her assessment: “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”. 

Delegates could, however, draw some positives from the European Union (EU) which released its ‘Green Deal’ (with Poland conspicuously abstaining from the deal) for zero carbon emissions by 2050, yet again establishing the EUas the leader in taking action on climate change.

Ironically, as the UK is scheduled to leave the EU on the 31st of January, its first big job will be to unite the world around the biggest issue the world faces. Over to you Mr Johnson. 

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