Reports from COP25: Last minute discussions for stronger actions

climate justice

On Saturday, activists staged a protest outside the COP25 summit venue in Madrid to express their frustration at what they see as the failure of world leaders in taking meaningful action on climate change.

The conference has become enmeshed in deep, technical arguments about a number of issues including the role of carbon markets and the financing of loss and damage caused by rising temperatures.

According to the UN, 84 countries have promised to enhance respective national plans by the end of next year. Some 73 have said they will set a long-term target of net zero by the middle of the century.

But earlier in the meeting, negotiators from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) pointed the finger of blame at countries including Australia, the United States, Canada, Russia, India, China and Brazil.

They had failed to submit revised plans that would help the world keep the rise in global temperatures under 1.5C this century.

Reinforcing the sense of division, India, supported by China, Saudi Arabia and Brazil, has been taking a hard line on promises made by richer countries in previous agreements before the Paris pact was signed in 2015.

India now wants to see evidence that in the years up to 2020, the developed world has lived up to past promises.

For many delegates, the deadlock is intensely frustrating in light of the urgent need to tackle emissions.

On Saturday, a new draft text from the meeting was released, designed to chart a way forward for the parties to the Paris agreement, which came into being in 2015.

The pact’s intention is to keep the global average temperature rise to well below 2C. This was regarded at the time as the threshold for dangerous global warming, though scientists subsequently shifted the definition of the “safe” limit to a rise of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

The European Union and small island states vulnerable to climate change are pushing for stronger commitments to cut those emissions.

Some of the biggest polluters, including the U.S., Brazil and India, say they see no need to change their current plans.

Negotiations at the UN climate talks are going into extra time as diplomats are at loggerheads over commitments to boost ambition and rules to set-up a new global carbon market.

There is possibility of political deadlock, with little progress on the most contentious issues, including creating a new carbon market, known as Article 6.

Australia, Brazil U.S., blocking progress

Costa Rica’s environment and energy minister Carlos Manuel Rodríguez called out “Australia, Brazil and the US” for blocking progress – a reflection of the tense atmosphere of the talks.

“Some of the positions are totally unacceptable because they are inconsistent with the commitment and the spirit that we were able to agree upon [in Paris in 2015],” he said.

“On the last day of the Cop we should be very concerned because that high ambition for environmental integrity is being threatened by the lack of agreement,” he warned.

Developing countries warned the deadlock was undermining a package of measures that could have delivered much-needed finance and support to vulnerable countries affected by sea-level rise, droughts, floods and extreme weather events.

Calls for additional finance to help developing countries recover from damages caused by climate impacts were not included in the latest draft text. Instead, the text on loss and damage “urges” countries to “scale-up” finance and capacity building. It also requests the creation of an expert group to explore further options to support vulnerable countries.

Another demand by developing countries to deploy a share of the proceeds from bilateral carbon trading between countries to the adaptation fund is being opposed by richer countries.

In a statement, China, Brazil, South Africa and India, called for the creation of a work program to close the gap of commitments made by rich countries before 2020.

“The ambitious implementation of developed countries’ commitments to provide support to developing countries is a precondition to any discussion on progression of current commitments,” the statement stated, adding progress on the issue “will be the benchmark of success for this COP”.

UN Chief calls for stronger commitment

With national delegations thrashing out an outcome agreement at the COP25, the UN chief has called on countries to be more ambitious, side strongly with science, and commit to stronger action.

“Today is the last day of the COP25 in Madrid”, said Secretary-General António Guterres. “And I appeal to the delegates of all Member States to convey a message of ambition to the world”.

He urged all to align “their objectives with science” to make sure that “temperatures will not rise above 1.5C at the end of the century”.

Guterres maintained that a “spirit of compromise is necessary for a successful conclusion of the regulations related to the implementation of the Paris Agreement” of 2015, which was signed by 193 countries to limit the damage caused by a warming world.

He also underscored the importance of “showing a very strong commitment and a very strong ambition in climate action”.

The UN chief congratulated the European Union for its announcement on Friday, committing to carbon neutrality by 2050 and called for this example of climate action “to be followed worldwide”. Only coal-reliant Poland out of the 28-member bloc, decided it would not commit.

All eyes “are on us”

At an on-site press conference, Andres Landerretche, COP25 Presidency Coordinator, spelled out: “The eyes of the people are on us”.

Recalling that a consensus between 193 States was needed before the conference could be concluded, he acknowledged that “negotiations have always been very difficult”.

While “our priorities are always a call to ambition, mitigation efforts and adaptation”, he flagged that the underlying issue underpinning final negotiations, was the “key element” of finance.

“Some groups ask for more financing to move forward with climate action plans”, including for technology transference and capacity building.

Everyone has a role to play

Mr. Landerretche stressed that while governments are responsible for frameworks, a cultural change must take place, with everyone asking themselves three fundamental questions: What am I doing to reduce my carbon footprint, resilience and vulnerabilities? Because, added, “everybody has to be on board”.

The coordinator told journalists that his mood was one of “general-moderate optimism” and he was “quite pleased” with comments from the floor in terms of a final text, which he hoped would “crystallize into a very good outcome”.

“Our intention is to finish the program”, he concluded.

Show flexibility, appeals Chile

Carolina Schmidt, Chile’s environment minister who is the conference’s president, has appealed to delegates to show flexibility, as they struggle to reach agreement on crucial measures needed to tackle climate change.

Carolina Schmidt said a deal was almost there but the outcome needed to be ambitious.

Ms Schmidt said early on Sunday: “I request all the flexibility, all your strength to find this agreement to have an ambitious result.”

She added: “It’s hard, it’s difficult but it’s worth it. I specially need you. But people in our countries need us.”

The goal is a commitment to new carbon emissions cuts by the end of 2020.

Unprecedented situation

The situation was unprecedented since talks began in 1991, said Alden Meyer from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Meyer commented: “The latest version of the Paris Agreement decision text put forward by the Chilean presidency is totally unacceptable. It has no call for countries to enhance the ambition of their emissions reduction commitments.

“If world leaders fail to increase ambition in the lead up to next year’s climate summit in Glasgow, they will make the task of meeting the Paris agreement’s ‘well below 2C’ temperature limitation goal – much less the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal – almost impossible.”

David Waskow, international climate director for the World Resources Institute (WRI), echoed his view. “If this text is accepted, the low ambition coalition will have won the day,” he said.

“I’ve been attending these climate negotiations since they first started in 1991. But never have I seen the almost total disconnect we’ve seen here at COP25 in Madrid between what the science requires and the people of the world demand, and what the climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful action,” said Alden Meyer.

“The planet is on fire and our window of escape is getting harder and harder to reach the longer we wait to act. Ministers here in Madrid must strengthen the final decision text, to respond to the mounting impacts of climate change that are devastating both communities and ecosystems all over the world.”

Jake Schmidt, from the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council, said: “In Madrid, the key polluting countries responsible for 80% of the world’s climate-wrecking emissions stood mute, while smaller countries announced they’ll work to drive down harmful emissions in the coming year.

“The mute majority must step up, and ramp up, their commitments to tackle the growing climate crisis well ahead of the COP26 gathering.”

At a “stock-taking” session on Saturday morning, Tina Stege, a negotiator with the Marshall Islands delegation, said: “The text must address the need for new and more ambitious NDCs and long-term goals. We can’t leave with anything else.”

A regression

Chair of the African group, ambassador Mohamed Nasr of Egypt, told reporters: “We are seeing a regression not a progression, specifically because some countries don’t want to come forward on climate finance.”

“Our view is very clear: either we have through this process the funding, the technology that we think we deserve and should get or this process can continue for another year, we are fine with that.”

“No deal is better than a bad deal for our people,” he added.

Poland stands alone

After a European Council meeting that ended early on Friday morning, council president Charles Michel said the 2050 target was a “common goal” agreed by all leaders. But said Poland “can’t commit to implement this objective”.

The leaders’ statement committed Poland to return to the issue at a council meeting in June 2020.

Poland will become the bloc’s second largest source of carbon after Germany when the UK leaves the EU – an event made certain by elections results in Britain overnight.

Poland has sought support from the ongoing EU budget negotiations to meet new climate targets. It will also argue for a large share of the EU’s Just Transition Fund (estimated to eventually leverage €100 billion).

German chancellor Angela Merkel said: “I am, given the circumstances, quite satisfied. There’s no division of Europe’s different parts, but rather one member state that still needs a bit of time to reflect on how this should be implemented. I think we have a good chance for good success.”

Hungary and the Czech Republic changed their position after refusing the goal at a summit in June.

China’s position

Zhao Yingmin, China’s vice-minister of ecology and environment and head of the Chinese delegation said climate action was not in conflict with China’s economic growth. Zhao was speaking publicly on the sidelines of the negotiations.

“China’s experience has fully demonstrated that our policy measures will improve the quality of economic growth and also improve our productivity,” he said, calling on Chinese entrepreneurs to “accelerate the green transformation of traditional industries”.




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