Where do we stand now in the wake of the failures of COP25?
History tends to repeat itself, and this has shown to be no different for COP25. In Madrid, arguably more failures than successes came out of the international climate negotiations. This turned out to be the longest COP to date, with an additional two days racked on to the two-week summit. And all of this happening against a backdrop of the UN stressing, again and again, that we only have a decade to slash global carbon emissions in half (and limit global warming to 1.5°C) before seeing catastrophic results. The urgency is present more than ever, but the actual work to deliver progress seems to be much less urgent.
The summit was originally to take place in Brazil, but their newly elected president Jair Bolsonaro opposed the idea and backed out. The government of Chile offered itself up as a substitute host but with heavy public unrest exploding in the streets across that country, the decision was made to cancel plans in Chile just a month in advance and to relocate COP 25 to Madrid. This inauspicious preamble shaped the rocky beginning of what spiraled down into a plethora of failures.
COP 25 ended without agreements on the global carbon market rules set forth in the Paris Agreement. No industrialized nation is on track to reach their Paris commitments despite the heartfelt pledges circa 2015. This is part of an ongoing trend that amply demonstrates the stunning lack of political urgency and the resulting lack of enforcement mechanisms, which gives heavy emitters little motivation to follow through with their commitments.
As seen with the U.S, a pattern of abandoning climate goals is present. The current US administration has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, in addition to rolling back other legislative efforts, both at home and abroad. As a result, there is growing frustration among poorer, lighter GhG-emitting island nations that live on the ‘front line’ of the climate emergency and who have seen previously-made promises of support disavowed by the big heavy emitting nations. These island nations rely upon money from “loss and damage”, a principle whereby money is re-allocated from more affluent countries to aid with climate damage incurred by the less affluent but more impacted countries. Unfortunately, minimal progress was made in the negotiations in Madrid to pressure the fulfillment of these past commitments.
For many representatives of the heavy emitting countries, the plight of island nations in this time of climate emergency could be seen as a regrettable ‘developing world’ issue – and somebody else’s problem. But, the critical conditions of the Australian bushfires illuminate the urgency of the issue. This is not just an issue that affects the developing countries anymore.
Australia is the example of how even economically stable and resilient countries have fallen into the catastrophic effects caused by climate change. Immunity from climate change does not exempt the affluent countries. It is not just the poor nations suffering, we all are. While Australia remains in a horrific blaze, with bushfires larger than the country of Belgium, it should ring the alarm that the world is indeed in a climate emergency, with even worse consequences growing more obvious by the day. Putting off targets without repercussions failed us numerous times, so now is the time to up the stakes. The next summit COP26 in Glasgow (Scotland) MUST deliver multilateral agreements that come together in a comprehensive and meaningful accord. Repeating the same mistakes, over and over again, is not an option. A change of pace and a change of methods is desperately needed.
As Greta Thunberg stated regarding the UN climate summit, “(the summit) seems to have turned into some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes.
Some good did come out of, this year’s event. It was labeled the “blue COP” for the focus on oceans, not just terrestrial land, as the key are of concern. And the EU has pledged itself to a bold move in becoming “climate neutral” by 2050, regardless the opposition from Poland.
While a small ‘v’ victory, this is still a turning point and demonstrates the EU leadership. After all, an exemplary leader in carbon neutrality IS a leader for the world that others can follow, setting ambitious targets, piloting new solutions and, fundamentally, showing that there’s an appreciation of the challenges (and a willingness to enact appropriate next-steps). This pledge must be signed at the EU and China summit in September 2020, which will hopefully allow the EU to challenge China to lower it’s own emissions and improve its own climate commitments.
As we await the EU-China summit, changes also await the next COP. We hope to move forward with a positive outlook for the COP26 in Glasgow. The 2020 US Election takes place just a week before the negotiations kick off in Glasgow and we can only hope that the American public will demonstrate their appreciation of the urgency of the climate emergency and thus allocate their votes towards those candidates with more ambitious climate agendas and less climate-denying tendencies.
If the later half of 2o2o were to unfurl in such a hopeful manner – with China and the US stepping up in terms of climate leadership – the disappointments of COP25 could fade into a distant memory as the ‘last COP before we got really serious’.
We can only hope.