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COP25: Campaigners disappointed by weak outcome

16 December 2019

COP25 ended on Sunday without agreement on two significant agenda items

Albin Hillert

The Revd Nehemias Rivera Medina of the Lutheran Costa Rican Church (right in photo) and the Revd Santiago de Jesús Rodríguez Lara from the Salvadoran Lutheran Church (left) hold crosses at the close of COP25. On the cross are written testimonies of people in El Salvador noting the oppressions they suffer in their daily lives. Crosses have had a particular significance in El Salvador after they were confiscated in 1989 by the People’s Revolutionary Army during the civil war

The Revd Nehemias Rivera Medina of the Lutheran Costa Rican Church (right in photo) and the Revd Santiago de Jesús Rodríguez Lara from t...

ON SUNDAY afternoon, the longest-ever UN climate summit, COP 25, came to an exhausted conclusion in Madrid (News, 5 December). Despite being scheduled to wrap up on Friday evening, talks continued through two nights of overtime.

Considering the pressure piled on delegates by Greta Thunberg and the school strikers, not to mention a series of frightening science reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this year, the outcome was described as disappointing by vulnerable nations and campaigners.

Sonam Wangdi, from Bhutan, speaking on behalf of the Least Developed Countries group, said: “This COP was not able to meet our expectations in raising ambition to address the concerns of our people at home and youth around the world.”

The difficulty was that this was always designed as a technical meeting. Some of the rules to govern the application of the Paris agreement were going to be agreed, with a view to making next year’s summit in Glasgow the one where new, improved, commitments on emissions and finance for poorer countries would be submitted.

Mattias Söderberg, from DanChurchAid and head of the delegation from the ACT Alliance, said: “We have a climate emergency, and the need for action is urgent. All parties should now return home, and consider how they can scale up their ambition when they draft their new plans. Parties should keep in mind that the Paris agreement refers to the need to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, and that urgent action is needed.”

Albin HillertStudents and young people in Spain emphasise their scrutiny of international talks during protests on the last official day of the summit in Madrid last week

In Madrid, despite the weekend extension, negotiators were unable to resolve the two agenda items. One was the issue of “loss and damage”: mobilising finance for countries who suffer from climate impacts that cannot be avoided.

The second was to create regulations about carbon markets so that countries could trade carbon credits generated by actions that reduce emissions, such as tree-planting. Brazil and Australia, who have many of these credits, pushed for weak regulation, which would have allowed them to trade credits for a profit, but which would undermine global efforts to cut emissions.

The Friday-night draft text supported this weak interpretation of the rules, including the carrying over of old credits from earlier carbon-trading regimes that would have flooded the market, reducing the overall carbon price.

A group of countries called the High Ambition Coalition, however, consisting of Ethiopia, small island states such as Fiji, New Zealand, Costa Rica, and the EU, vowed to fight for a stronger outcome.

After another day and night, beating the previous record for the longest meeting (Durban in 2011), a final text was issued on Sunday morning that said that the weak rules around carbon trading would be shelved, and any decision on that postponed until Glasgow in November next year.

The policy officer with Carbon Market Watch, Gilles Dufrasne, said: “After two weeks of negotiations, discussions on carbon markets took such a bad turn that seeing no agreement was actually a relief. We came here asking for urgent action, and several countries only offered accounting tricks and cover for climate inaction. These loopholes are nothing but a way of cheating the planet and betraying the people.”

PACOPT25 President, and Chilie’s Minister of the Environment, Carolina Schmidt

The onus now swings to the UK, which will preside over COP26 in Glasgow. The British diplomatic service were already going to be stretched to pull off the most important climate summit since Paris in 2015. The agenda has now become even busier. There is also the little matter of needing to strike an EU trade deal one month later.

The Global Climate Lead at Christian Aid, Dr Katherine Kramer, said: “The UK now has a gargantuan task of overseeing a successful climate summit in Glasgow next year. 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. It will also need to deploy its diplomatic skills to create an outcome that responds to the demands of both science and people.”

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