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The longest ever UN climate talks on record – Conference of Parties (COP)25 – have finally ended in Madrid with nothing, but a compromise deal. Many of those in attendance were unhappy with the overall package, feeling it did not reflect the urgency of the science. A disappointment has overwhelmed many COP25 delegates.

Exhausted delegates reached agreement on the key question of increasing the global response to curbing carbon.

All countries will need to put new climate pledges on the table by the time of the next major conference in Glasgow next year.

After two extra days and nights of negotiations, the COP25 delegates finally agreed a deal that will see new, improved carbon cutting plans on the table by the time of the Glasgow conference next year.

All parties will need to address the gap between what the science says is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change, and the current state of play which would see the world go past this threshold in the 2030s.

Supported by the European Union and small island states, the push for higher ambition was opposed by a range of countries including the US, Brazil, India and China.

However, a compromise was agreed with the richer nations having to show that they have kept their promises on climate change in the years before 2020.

Spain’s acting Minister for the Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera said the mandate was clear.

“Countries have to present more ambitious NDCs [nationally determined contributions] in 2020 than what we have today because it is important to address science and the demands of people, as well as commit ourselves to do more and faster.”

Next year’s big climate conference will be held in Glasgow, Scotland. Decisions on many important issues including the thorny question of carbon markets have been delayed until Glasgow.

“Thankfully the weak rules on a market based mechanism, promoted by Brazil and Australia, that would have undermined efforts to reduce emissions has been shelved and the fight on that can continue next year at COP26 in Glasgow,” said Mohamed Adow, with the group Power Shift Africa.

However, negotiators will be satisfied to have kept the process alive after these difficult and complex talks in Madrid.

After two weeks of talks, many issues remain unresolved.

Countries failed to agree on many of the hoped for outcomes, including rules to set up a global carbon trading system and a system to channel new finance to countries facing the impacts of climate change.

Australia and Brazil continued to push for a system with loopholes, which allowed initial double counting of emissions reductions and trading of Kyoto-era credits – explained below.

But other countries say this would undermine the entire market. As tensions peaked on Saturday, a group of 31 countries led by Costa Rica signed up to the “San Jose Principles”, a set of minimum standards for ensuring the integrity of the global carbon market.

Some countries, including Australia, Brazil and India, want to be able to use old, unspent CDM credits in the new system. Australia openly plans on using its 370 million CDM credits to meet its emission reduction goals.

But many countries are concerned allowing CDM carryover could flood the market with cheap credits that don’t represent real emissions reductions, undermining the integrity of the entire system. This is because CDMs represent emissions cuts made well before 2020, the year the Paris Agreement formally begins, and there serious doubts over whether many CDM-registered projects have even driven real emissions cuts.

Little consensus was found on this at the talks. The draft text proposes that Kyoto-era credits could be accounted against climate pledges until 2025, a view that many countries find unacceptable. Much of the rest of the text remains vague.

Guterres disappointed

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was disappointed by the result of the COP.

“The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis,” he said, quoted by AFP.

“A far cry”

Laurence Tubiana from the European Climate Foundation, and an architect of the Paris agreement, described the result as “really a mixed bag, and a far cry from what science tells us is needed.”

“Major players who needed to deliver in Madrid did not live up to expectations, but thanks to a progressive alliance of small island states, European, African and Latin American countries, we obtained the best possible outcome, against the will of big polluters.”

The pledge that was made in Paris

Countries agreed in Paris in 2015 to revisit their climate pledges by 2020. But many countries were pushing this year for a clear call for all countries to submit more ambitious climate pledges next year. This is seen as a key means of ensuring countries put a focus on improving their current pledges, as well as empowering civil society to hold them to account.

But countries such as China and Brazil opposed placing any obligation on countries to submit enhanced pledges next year, arguing it should be each country’s own decision. They instead argued the focus should be on pre-2020 action by developing countries to meet their previous pledges.

Countries such as China and India made it clear they would not support strong language on raising ambition without a similar call for rich countries to provide the finance and support promised to developing countries.

They called for the creation of a “work program” to close the gap of commitments made by rich countries before 2020.

But the EU opposed this, saying the focus needs to be on future ambition under the Paris Agreement, which applies to all countries.

Other poorer developing countries made it clear that, while they support pre-2020 action, higher ambition for the future from all countries should not be conditional on it.

As talks reached their final days, tensions grew after a draft decision removed any call for countries to “update” or “enhance” their climate plans by 2020. Instead, it only invited them to “communicate” them in 2020 – far weaker language, which put no obligation on enhanced ambition.

Reacting to this, a high ambition coalition, led by the Marshall Islands and backed by the EU Commission and a number of European countries, made it clear that final COP25 decision text must include a clear call for enhanced ambition in 2020.

Some ambitious words only

In the end, the final text added some more ambitious wording back in, pointing directly to the emissions gap between what country pledges currently add up to and what is needed to keep global temperature rise well below 2C.

It also “recalls that new climate pledges should “represent a progression” beyond previous pledges and represent the highest possible ambition. This text was an improvement on previous drafts but “still weak”, according to Naoyuki Yamagishi of WWF Japan.

In the final text, countries agreed to hold pre-2020 roundtables. The outcomes of these pre-2020 roundtables will also be rounded up in a report in 2021, which will in turn feed into a review on progress towards meeting the Paris Agreement’s “well below 2C” goal.

It did not specifically say whether the results of these roundtables would feed directly into the global stock take set to occur in 2023 under the Paris agreement.

In the end a mere two paragraphs summed up plans to continue talks in 2020. This did acknowledge the draft texts from this year’s negotiations as a basis for future talks, meaning countries will not have to start from scratch. However, none of these texts have found consensus.

“The current text preserves the possibility of carry over, which should certainly be avoided next year,” said Li.

Human rights

Indigenous and human rights groups have pushed for the new carbon market rules to require projects to respect human rights, protect indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups, consult meaningfully with local communities and set up an independent grievance program for projects gone awry.

The current draft text has no mention of human rights, asking only that projects shall “avoid negative environmental and social impacts”. It says consultations should take place “where consistent with applicable domestic arrangements” and that further safeguards could be reviewed by 2028.

Several countries voiced support for human rights protections during the final plenary on Sunday morning.

The texts are ”woefully inadequate” in regards to protecting people on the ground from harm caused by activities under the new market mechanisms,” says Erika Lennon, senior attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “Delaying the decision to Cop26 was the only responsible decision.”

Loss and damage

Some developed countries are extremely wary of language around loss and damage finance. The US was particularly resistant to any discussion about new areas of work even for existing funds. Other developed countries are more willing to engage.

A newly formed “Santiago network” will lead more work on how to minimize, avoid and recover from loss and damage.

But Sven Harmeling, climate change lead for Care International, called the loss and damage outcome “disappointing”, in particular pointing to the vague mandate for the Green Climate Fund on whether and how it should incorporate loss and damages into its remit.

A last minute fight about long-term finance meant there was no outcome on this, though talks will continue next year.

The UK is one of several European countries, which yesterday supported the ‘San Jose principles’ for environmental integrity of the new carbon market. It is also a member of the high-ambition coalition of countries, which pushed hard this year for a clear call for enhanced climate plans in 2020.

“Disastrous”

Kenyan climate campaigner Mohamad Adow called the Madrid outcome “disastrous, profoundly distressing”.

“We cannot just copy and paste the text from four years ago. We need to recognize that since then the climate emergency has got worse and public anger has got fiercer,” he said.

Strengthen political will

Carolina Schmidt, Chilean environment minister and conference president said: “The consensus is still not there to increase ambition to the levels that we need. Before finishing, I want to make a clear and strong call to the world to strengthen political will and accelerate climate action to the speed that the world needs. The new generations expect more from us.”

“Missing in action”

Alden Meyer, strategy chief at the Union of Concerned Scientists said: “Never have I seen such a disconnect between what the science requires and what the climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful action. Most of the world’s biggest emitting countries are missing in action and resisting calls to raise their ambition.”

“It is extraordinarily difficult”

Sir David King, British government representative at the 2015 Paris climate talks said: “If the United States is not backing an agreement that is meaningful it is extraordinarily difficult for the rest of the world to come to an agreement. And I’m afraid as long as we have Trump in the United States with President Bolsonaro in Brazil it is extraordinarily difficult to get all of those countries to agree.”


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