COP25: The ‘Point of No Return’ Climate Summit This Week

COP25: The ‘Point of No Return’ Climate Summit This Week

Madrid will host about 25,000 people this week for the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Convention on Climate Change. This summit really does mark the ‘point of no return’ for climate change discussions.

Yes, another climate summit addressing the increasingly pressing issue of global warming is set to play out this week. But this one is different—and holds a lot of weight. Here’s why.

About 25,000 people from 200 countries will attend the COP25 climate change conference this week in Madrid, Spain. Among those in attendance will be heads of state and government, business leaders, scientists, and activists—including teenager Greta Thunberg.

This conversation, though, is particularly significant in the broad problem of climate change. Why? Not only is the Earth’s adaptability timeline running out, but players in the Paris Climate Accord have major work to do—including the United States.

The gathering was originally supposed to be hosted by Brazil. But following recent decisions by newly-elected president Jair Bolsonaro last year, the meeting was moved to Chile. Then, after violent anti-government protests in Chile this fall, the meeting was moved again to Madrid, Spain.

It’s no secret that climate change is a global concern—and it’s no longer considered a long-term one. Calls for immediate action ring through environmental efforts around the world, and the dooming “point of no return” is becoming a very tangible possibility.

But first, here’s what you need to know.

What is COP25?

Ah, the Paris Climate Accord. Under the 2015 agreement, over 200 nations committed to a shared goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and, if possible, to less than 1.5 degrees above.

The world is now 1.1 degrees warmer than it was at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and a change that seemingly minute has already had major effects on the planet and human lives.

COP is the body that makes sure the Paris agreement is implemented. The 25 signifies that this is the group’s 25th meeting.

Is This Just Another Climate Conference?

Climate change is increasingly on the agenda, and world leaders and policy makers are finding the topic harder and harder to ignore—mainly because its destructive effects are becoming more visible, and cries for action are becoming louder.

On Monday, a new report from Oxfam found that one person is forced out of his or her home every two seconds as a result of climate change.

The summit marks the “point of no return,” said United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres. And the point of no return is “no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and hurtling towards us.”

Is a ‘Tipping Point’ Somewhat Alarmist?

That is precisely the point, really. Years of surmounting scientific evidence, and recent cases of climate catastrophe, point to a massive likelihood of the Earth’s tipping point—or a point of such immense stress and climate alteration that a snowballing effect of problems will be impossible to stop, or reverse.

Guterres stresses the simple correlation to the complex issue: scientists have been making the connection between climate change and greenhouse gases for decades. Yet, global emissions are still going up.

The 2015 Paris Accord addressed this very tipping point. Nations agreed that global emissions of greenhouse gases must peak no later than 2020, and then start coming down. Otherwise, the world would face disastrous and irreversible damage.

To reach this goal, emissions on a global scale will need to fall by 7.6 percent every year in the next decade, reports CNN.

Every. Year.

And the world is not showing a dip in emissions at all. In fact, according to the UN, if we rely on only the current climate plans, temperatures can be expected to rise by 3.2 degrees this century.

So—a tipping point? Pushing the brink of climate catastrophe is very much within the realm of possibility.

What Can We Do?

There is always something to be done—but a lot needs to be done, and quickly. As we’ve said, reduction targets are drastic because they need to be. But this means global leaders must come up with practical and immediate plans for cutting emissions in the next two weeks.

Last year, at the COP24 conference in Poland, some rules were agreed on. However, the meeting failed to address one crucial part of the plan: the rules for a new international emission-trading system.

Emissions trading is like a giant carbon dioxide emissions share. A global market for carbon dioxide emissions would allow governments and businesses to trade their greenhouse gas output. This means that those that manage to keep their emissions below a set cap could sell the remaining allowance to those that can’t.

Experts agree that an efficient trading mechanism could make fighting climate change cheaper and fairer, and it would allow business to play a much bigger role. However, a badly designed trading system could lead to double counting, which could inflate the appearance of cuts. And a carbon price that is too high or too low could jeopardize the whole idea, according to CNN.

The meeting this year plans to address it. Experts say that if the delegates reach a deal on emissions trading, we just might be able to reach the global targets. If they fail, we will definitely be behind the plan.  

The CNN article reminds us that this make-or-break won’t mean all is lost, but it will make dealing with climate change consequences that much more difficult and expensive. The longer we wait, the harder the problem will be to fix.

But What About the US?

There’s no doubt that President Donald Trump’s decision to remove the United States from the Paris accord was a major setback in the global goal to lessen emissions—especially because the US is responsible for 13 percent of global emissions. It falls just behind China in emissions, but if calculated per head, the US is well above anyone else.

But the absence of the US in the Paris accord does not ruin all efforts. This just means the world’s other big polluters will have to step up their commitments big time.

Some big players are, too. Just days after the US withdrew from the Paris agreement, nations like China and France signed a pact recommitting to it.

Plus, there is a presidential timeline to consider. Even though the US has formally withdrawn, under the framework of the agreement, the withdrawal process cannot be completed until November 4, 2020—one day after the 2020 presidential election.

Should Trump lose the 2020 election, a new president could rejoin the agreement. That would also mean that the US would have to make new, more ambitious climate commitments to the UN straightaway instead of doing so gradually, like other countries. In the meantime, some individual American cities and states have pledged to stick to the agreement while the country has not.

For a comprehensive look into the ins and outs of the conference, happening December 2 through 13, visit https://unfccc.int/cop25.  

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