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COP25: Longest climate talks end with compromise deal


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Some of the difficult issues proved impossible to resolve in Madrid

The longest United Nations climate talks on record have finally ended in Madrid with a compromise deal.

Exhausted delegates reached agreement on the key question of increasing the global response to curbing carbon.

All countries will need to put new climate pledges on the table by the time of the next major conference in Glasgow next year.

Divisions over other questions – including carbon markets – were delayed until the next gathering.

What was agreed?

After two extra days and nights of negotiations, delegates finally agreed a deal that will see new, improved carbon cutting plans on the table by the time of the Glasgow conference next year.

All parties will need to address the gap between what the science says is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change, and the current state of play which would see the world go past this threshold in the 2030s.

Supported by the European Union and small island states, the push for higher ambition was opposed by a range of countries including the US, Brazil, India and China.

However a compromise was agreed with the richer nations having to show that they have kept their promises on climate change in the years before 2020.

Huge pressure on UK

Next year’s big climate conference will be held in Glasgow, Scotland – and that heaps enormous pressure on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

He’s already been warned by environmentalists that he will be “humiliated” if he tries to lead other nations whilst the UK is still failing to meet its own medium-term climate targets.

The UK’s climate advisers warn that tens of millions of homes must be insulated.

Other experts say Mr Johnson’s £28.8m road-building plans are not compatible with eliminating CO2 emissions.

They say even fully electric cars won’t solve the problem completely – and urge the government to help people walk and cycle to benefit their health and the environment.

They also say expanding aviation will increase emissions.

Mr Johnson’s Brexit decisions will play a part too. The US won’t discuss climate change in any trade deal. Meanwhile the EU is putting a border tax on countries that don’t cut greenhouse gases. It will be impossible to please both.

What is the reaction?

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was disappointed by the result.

“The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis,” he said, quoted by AFP.

‘Another year of failure’

Meanwhile, Laurence Tubiana from the European Climate Foundation, and an architect of the Paris agreement, described the result as “really a mixed bag, and a far cry from what science tells us is needed.”

“Major players who needed to deliver in Madrid did not live up to expectations, but thanks to a progressive alliance of small island states, European, African and Latin American countries, we obtained the best possible outcome, against the will of big polluters.”

Decisions on other issues including the thorny question of carbon markets have been delayed until Glasgow.

Animated chart showing that most of the coldest 10 years compared to the 20th century average were in the early 1900s, while the warmest years have all been since 2000, with 2018 on course to be the fourth warmest year on record

This aspect of the deal was welcomed by campaigners.

“Thankfully the weak rules on a market based mechanism, promoted by Brazil and Australia, that would have undermined efforts to reduce emissions has been shelved and the fight on that can continue next year at COP26 in Glasgow,” said Mohamed Adow, with the group Power Shift Africa.

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Media captionClimate change: How 1.5C could change the world

Many of those in attendance were unhappy with the overall package, feeling it did not reflect the urgency of the science.

Spain’s acting Minister for the Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera said the mandate was clear.

“Countries have to present more ambitious NDCs [nationally determined contributions] in 2020 than what we have today because it is important to address science and the demands of people, as well as commit ourselves to do more and faster.”

However, negotiators will be satisfied to have kept the process alive after these difficult and complex talks in Madrid.

What is the evidence for global warming?

The world is now nearly one degree Celsius warmer than it was before widespread industrialisation, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The 20 warmest years on record have all occurred in the past 22 years, with the years from 2015-2018 making up the top four.

The WMO says that if the current warming trend continues, temperatures could rise by 3-5C by the end of this century.

A threshold of 2C had long been regarded as the gateway to dangerous warming. More recently, scientists and policy makers have argued that keeping temperature rise to within 1.5C is a safer limit for the world.

But an IPCC report in 2018 suggested that keeping to the 1.5C target would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

How will climate change affect us?

There are varying degrees of uncertainty about the scale of potential impacts.

But the changes could drive freshwater shortages, bring sweeping changes to our ability to produce food, and increase the number of deaths from floods, storms, heat waves and droughts.

Even if we cut greenhouse gas emissions dramatically now, scientists say the effects will continue because parts of the climate system, particularly large bodies of water and ice, can take hundreds of years to respond to changes in temperature.

It also takes greenhouse gases decades to be removed from the atmosphere.

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Under Pressure. Can COP25 Deliver? — Global Issues


Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, drive up environmental remediation costs. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS
  • Opinion by Farhana Haque Rahman (rome)
  • Monday, December 02, 2019
  • Inter Press Service

But despite warnings that the planet is reaching critical tipping points, the two weeks of talks with nearly 30,000 participants and dozens of heads of government attending may still end in that familiar sense of disappointment and an opportunity missed.

The annual Conference of the Parties, this year being COP25, was to have been a highly arcane if crucial process of finding agreement on carbon markets, known in the jargon as Article 6 of the ‘rulebook’ to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement on stopping the planet from overheating.

Highly contentious, and in part pitting developing countries like Brazil, China and India against others, the Article 6 debate could not be resolved at last year’s summit – COP24 in Katowice, Poland – nor at meetings in Bonn in June and hence was left for COP25 to try and fix. The other big elephant in the room – setting more ambitious national targets to reduce carbon emissions – was conveniently going to be left to be settled at next year’s COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.

But action is needed now, and senior officials representing nearly 200 countries have been put on notice that the climate emergency in all its forms is dominating the public sphere across the world. Just last week we saw student-led demonstrations and strikes in many places that appropriately fell on Black Friday, delivering a broadside against rampant consumerism as well as government inaction.

Farhana Haque Rahman”Striking is not a choice we relish; we do it because we see no other options,” youth leaders Greta Thunberg of Sweden, Luisa Neubauer of Germany and Angela Valenzuela of Chile declared in a joint statement.

“We have watched a string of United Nations climate conferences unfold. Countless negotiations have produced much-hyped but ultimately empty commitments from the world’s governments—the same governments that allow fossil fuel companies to drill for ever-more oil and gas, and burn away our futures for their profit.”

UN Secretary General António Guterres has told COP25 that “the point of no return is no longer over the horizon”.

“In the crucial 12 months ahead, it is essential that we secure more ambitious national commitments – particularly from the main emitters – to immediately start reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a pace consistent to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions,” Guterres said.

Just last month the UN Environment Programme’s annual Emissions Gap Report warned that the Paris Agreement ambition of keeping average temperatures within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times was “on the brink of becoming impossible”.

Global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 would have to be under 25 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent to reach that target but, at current rates of growth, emissions are projected to reach more than double that level. Clearly drastic action is needed.

Reinforcing the sense of emergency, the World Meteorological Organization reported that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases reached new record highs in 2018. China is the world’s largest emitter.

Spain stepped in to offer Madrid as a venue for COP25 after Chile withdrew as host because of mass anti-government unrest. However Chile is still leading the conference and together with Spain will be pushing countries to act quickly to raise the ambition of their carbon emission reduction targets. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says the goal is for “the largest number of countries” to commit to net zero emissions by 2050.

From 2020 to 2030, emissions must be cut 7.6% a year to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, the UNEP says.

However the main negotiation process in Madrid is expected to focus on the unfinished business of the market-based mechanisms to create and manage new carbon markets under the Paris Agreement. This would allow countries and industries to earn credits for above-target emission reductions that can then be traded. Big developing countries have already accumulated huge amounts of carbon credits under the previous but now largely discredited carbon credit scheme. It is a highly complex tangle of interests.

Carbon Brief, a UK-based climate website, says the Article 6 debate has the potential to “make or break” implementation of the Paris Agreement which comes into force next year.

“To its proponents, Article 6 offers a path to significantly raising climate ambition or lowering costs, while engaging the private sector and spreading finance, technology and expertise into new areas. To its critics, it risks fatally undermining the ambition of the Paris Agreement at a time when there is clear evidence of the need to go further and faster to avoid the worst effects of climate change,” Carbon Brief explains.

While Article 6 is a highly technical area, the underlying issues are political, with some countries forming unofficial alliances to defend their own interests rather than the common good of the planet. But politicians have been put on notice that this time the world’s public is watching closely. Horse-trading cannot be allowed to put our futures at risk.

© Inter Press Service (2019) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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