‘A far cry from what science tells us is needed’: COP25 reaches ‘disappointing’ conclusion

Talks at COP25 were due to conclude on Friday evening (13 December)

At the start of the annual climate summit on December 2, the UN’s secretary-general António Guterres told delegates that the “point of no return is no longer over the horizon” regarding climate change.

He emphasised the IPCC’s findings in its landmark report on warming of 1.5C and 2C, bolstered by the UN’s damning emissions gap report, and urged world leaders to use the occasion to set more ambitious commitments.

In particular, the UN was pushing for higher carbon taxes; new emissions trading systems; an adjustment of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement, in line with 1.5C; and the creation of a UN-wide ‘Loss and Damage’ fund and supporting framework, to be used to help communities in low-income areas recover from extreme weather events.

The final texts from the summit, published today after delays of around 40 hours, show that none of these moves has been implemented in full.

COP25’s final decision text “re-emphasizes with serious concern the urgent need to address the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation efforts in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 (…)” and “stresses the urgency of enhanced ambition in order to ensure the highest possible mitigation and adaptation efforts by all Parties” – but contains no new requirements for member states.

Negotiations around the ‘Loss and Damage’ measures closed last weekend, with the final text on discussion stating that although UN member countries are all willing to “avert, minimise and address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts in a comprehensive, integrated and coherent manner”, most believe that nations should be developing their own domestic ‘Loss and Damage’ measures and that an international standard is not needed at present.

Further talks on this matter will be scheduled for COP26 in Glasgow next year, it was decided.

As for carbon pricing, talks ran more than a day over schedule, with observers blaming policy leaders and energy firms from the likes of the US, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Australia for the delays. In the final hours, more than 30 nations joined the San Jose Principles – a framework designed to prevent loopholes in the carbon credit market. However, an overarching outcome was not agreed upon.

Paris Agreement architect Laurence Trubiana dubbed these outcomes a “far cry from what science tells us is needed”, hinting that stronger decisions could have been made if policy leaders had taken a more long-term approach.

“The Paris Agreement is too important for the safety of the planet to fall victim to short-term politics from the world’s major powers. Paris was clear: 2020 is the year when all countries need to submit new and really enhanced climate plans,” she said. “This will be a big test for the UK and Italy – who host COP26 in Glasgow next year – but I trust they can deliver.”

Christian Aid’s global climate lead Dr Katherine Kramer was less certain about the UK’s position, calling the task of overseeing a successful COP26 “gargantuan”.

“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,” Kramer said.

“It will also need to deploy its diplomatic skills to create an outcome that responds to the demands of both science and people.

“With a Brexit deadline of December to negotiate a trade deal with the EU, the UK’s diplomatic service will simultaneously have to ensure all countries arrive in Glasgow in November having enhanced their climate plans. It’s a huge task that will require the highest level of diplomatic skill and hard work…The decision to shelve weak rules on carbon markets until next year is good news, in the hope that strong rules can instead be agreed. However, it means even more work for the UK in the lead up to and at Glasgow.”

The keys to the COP26 presidency were handed to former Energy Minister Claire Perry O’Neill this week, after the Conservative Party secured a landslide win in the UK’s general election. Key figures from across the nation’s green economy are already making calls for her, and the rest of the new Government, to act swiftly to deliver substantial outcomes at the summit.

In addition to Trubiana and Kramer, Gutteres has expressed his disappointment at the COP25 outcomes. He tweeted: “The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis.

“But we must not give up, and I will not give up.

“I am more determined than ever to work for 2020 to be the year in which all countries commit to do what science tells us is necessary to reach carbon neutrality [by] 2050 and a no more than 1.5C temperature rise.”

Rays of hope?

In light of the lack of progress from national governments, businesses and youth activists have been highlighting the positive work done in their respective spheres during COP25 – and calling for further action and ambition as we go into 2020.

On the business front, 177 firms committed to setting verified Science-Based Targets through the We Mean Business Coalition, while a further 500+ from the B-Corp movement pledged to become net-zero by 2030.

The We Mean Business Coalition’s Policy Director Jen Austin said: “Business is looking for governments to commit to achieving a just transition to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050 at the latest. They must strengthen their NDCs and 2030 targets in line with a 1.5ºC trajectory, and lay out national policies, plans and laws to drive the achievement of these targets.”  

As for youth activism, 2019 has undeniably been a year of action on an unparalleled scale. From a one-person protest outside Sweden’s parliament in 2018, Greta Thunberg’s climate strikes movement has become a global phenomenon that is now spreading beyond students. The last demonstration, in Madrid, attracted crowds of more than half a million individuals.

Reflecting on this, 25-year-old Angela Valenzuela, who helps lead Fridays for Future in Chile, said: “Climate leadership has been present at COP25, but it has not come from governments. It’s the climate justice movement that will transform the world.

“Rich countries under the influence of the fossil fuel industry have blocked all possibility of justice and real climate action. The voice of women, Indigenous Peoples and the youth keep being excluded. We will never benefit out of the destruction of the planet and our communities. That’s why we stay strong, more united and awake as ever.”

You can read our coverage of all the major highs and lows of COP25 here:

Sarah george

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