‘Profound disconnect between people and politicians’: Major decisions deferred as marathon Madrid climate summit grinds to a close

Analysis: After a marathon 48 hours of talks, climate conference ends with little progress made on crucial issues

Isabella Kaminski
Sunday 15 December 2019 20:01
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Greta Thunberg hosts environment panel in Madrid

International talks that aimed to progress action to tackle climate change have left vulnerable nations, environmental groups and young people across the world deeply disappointed.

COP25, which was held in Madrid after a last-minute move from Chile, was intended to iron out the final details of the 2015 Paris Agreement and encourage countries to submit more ambitious national carbon-cutting plans next year.

But a fraught negotiation process, which highlighted the disparities between poor and wealthy nations and between those willing and reticent to act, elicited growing anger as it went deep into extra time over the weekend.

Diplomats managed to agree on some issues in the final sleep-deprived 48 hours, including an updated gender action plan that recognises the impact of climate change on human rights, historic and current gender inequalities and the importance of intersectionality.

And, despite numerous attempts to weaken it, the final agreement re-emphasised the “significant gap” between national promises to cut carbon and the amount that is actually needed to stave off dangerous warming, stressing “the urgency of enhanced ambition in order to ensure the highest possible mitigation and adaptation efforts by all parties”.

But several key issues were deferred to next year’s summit in Glasgow.

A decision on international carbon market rules proved intractable as countries argued over the issue of double counting and whether to allow overperformance in previous emission trading schemes to count towards future targets.

While business organisations were disappointed not to have a clearer idea of how carbon markets would work, some observers welcomed the postponement on the basis that no rules were better than bad ones.

Sébastien Duyck, senior attorney at the Centre for International Environmental Law, said the final proposals had threatened to undermine human rights and would have been too weak to be truly effective in cutting emissions.

Countries agreed to do more work on the thorny issue of loss and damage but did not approve any new source of finance to compensate vulnerable countries for climate change.

Instead, part of the existing Green Climate Fund was siphoned off to deal with loss and damage, while organisations and nations were “urged” to do more.

The US, which is due to leave the Paris Agreement next year, was singled out for obstructing progress on this issue.

Ian Fry, negotiator for the vulnerable island nation of Tuvalu, denounced the US’s attitude during the summit’s final meeting and said that “refusing to support those most impacted could constitute a crime against humanity”.

According to Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, which organised a string of NGO-led events during the two-week summit, the final outcome showed a “profound disconnect between people and politicians on the climate emergency”.

As the talks wore on, thousands of protesters marched in the streets of Madrid and scientists warned that much more had to be done to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5C.

Some directed their criticism squarely at the summit’s Chilean presidency.

Greenpeace Chile’s national director Matias Asun said: “Chile lost a perfect opportunity to show climate leadership.

“The real progress was made by people moving forward for real changes while pushing those who passively watching our environment been destroyed.”

But Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation and a key architect of the Paris Agreement, said that while the results were “a far cry from what science tells us is needed”, it still achieved the “best possible outcome” thanks to a progressive alliance of small island states, European, African and Latin American countries.

The UK will host the next international summit in Glasgow in November 2020 and expectations will be high.

Mary Church, from Friends of the Earth Scotland, said the UN “must put pressure” on the new UK government to ensure the voices of those most affected by the climate crisis are not excluded.

“The COP in Glasgow will serve as a rallying cry for all who care about our planet and the fate of peoples all over the world,” said Church. “The eyes of the world will be on us.”

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