U.N. Climate Talks Close with Little Agreement or Global Unity
The COP25 of this year, hosted in Madrid, proved a disheartening end to urgent climate talks. World leaders disagreed on how to discuss a number of topics, let alone do something about them.
The 25th meeting of the UN Climate Talks ended with frustration, worry, and a lack of united agreement on climate issues this past Sunday morning. In fact, leaders were far from agreement as they pointed fingers and directed failures at one another.
After over two weeks of negotiations at the conference, alongside multiple global protests and rallies for faster action, negotiations among world leaders managed to pull an arguable meager agreement together, leaving many issues unresolved.
One article from the Washington Post notes that by and large, the negotiators failed to achieve their primary goals, including persuading the world’s largest carbon-emitting countries (including the U.S.) to pledge to tackle climate change more aggressively beginning in 2020.
Many are saying that what agreements they did come to are simply not enough—especially given the alarming nature of the 2019 WMO State of the Global Climate Report.
“We are not satisfied,” said Chilean Environment Minister Carolina Schmidt, who chaired the conference. “The agreements reached by the parties are not enough.”
After 200 nations debated for 40 hours—and talked past their deadline, the agreements were weak to say the least. This year’s COP was the longest in the 25-year history of the talks, as the official deadline was last Friday evening.
Chaos was at work, and instead of approaching the talks with the mindset of compromise, the conference seemed to have much more of an aggressive and accusatory tone. Officials scrambled to finalize a complex set of rules to implement in the 2015 Paris climate accord, but a number of higher-emitting countries targeted a number of smaller and more vulnerable countries.
The article says that negotiators “were at loggerheads while crafting rules around a fair and transparent global carbon trading system,” as was expected. However, this issue was pushed to next year.
As for providing funds to poorer nations with rising seas, crippling droughts, and other consequences of climate change, fights seemed to drag on and on.
The slow-moving slog of the COP25 meetings were not like the wave of mass demonstrations and pleas from young activists around the world, many of whom staged protests inside the conference hall and accused leaders of neglecting to address one of the most “significant challenge(s) facing humanity.”
“This is the biggest disconnect between this process and what’s going on in the real world that I’ve seen,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has been attending climate talks since the early 1990s.
He goes on, saying the disconnect is exemplified by the fact that leaders and policymakers do not seem to want to approach the topic of climate change with the same sense of urgency or alarm as the citizens outside the doors.
“It’s like we’re in a sealed vacuum chamber in here, and no one is perceiving what is happening out there—what the science says and what people are demanding,” he said.
And it’s not just the disconnect from the general public that the conference seemed to trip over—there is a stark difference from today’s climate talks compared to the momentum and drive that pushed the ambitious Paris agreement four years ago in 2015.
“The can-do spirit that birthed the Paris agreement feels like a distant memory today,” Helen Mountford, vice president for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute, said.
Next year’s gathering will be held in Scotland, and in order to avoid uneventful and unfruitful talks like those from this year, countries will be “asked to show up with more ambitious pledges to slash their carbon footprints.”
However, a promise like this one seems far-fetched given that many countries have not even met their goals from the Paris agreement in 2015, when leaders pledged to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit)—and to try to remain below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The world already has warmed more than 1 degree Celsius above preindustrial levels, and if countries around the world don’t pledge to do something soon, the world is expected to continue to warm more than 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
Tensions were high as climate talks ensued while big and small countries squared up and began firing accusations at one another. The divide seems to be only widening between countries that pollute most and those that suffer from it.
Brazil, Australia, and the United States were among those accused by smaller countries of “obstructing key parts of the negotiations and undermining the spirit and goals of the Paris accord.” Essentially their argument is in relation to responsibility and resources available, and smaller countries that already are being hit hard by climate change argue that large emitters continue to dawdle, as other imperiled nations face the brunt of the effects like intensifying natural disasters.
Among those accused of not doing enough is the United States, not just because of its elected disengagement from the talks this year, but also the fact that is it one of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases but has yet to pledge to reduce emissions.
The Trump administration has plans to officially withdraw from the Paris accord on Nov. 4, 2020—the day after the U.S. presidential election.
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres is disheartened, to say the least, after the COP25 talks and the last year he spent pleading with countries to produce more aggressive plans to combat global warming over the coming year.
“The point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and hurtling towards us,” he said as the climate talks convened. He said the “world’s largest emitters are not pulling their weight.”
And indeed, climate promises are yet to be met.
One big topic that holds a lot of potential to address global climate change, if implemented correctly, is the topic of carbon trading. While leaders discussed the topic at this year’s talks, the issue remained unresolved and was pushed to next year’s agenda. Some countries accused Brazil and others of pushing for accounting loopholes that they said would weaken transparency and mask emissions in a way that would undermine the integrity of the accord.
There is one uplifting outcome from the talks: in Brussels, European leaders on Friday pledged to eliminate their carbon footprint by 2050.
Yes, this means the European Union has plans to be completely carbon neutral within the next thirty years. There’s no question this is a leading, and rare, example of one of the world’s biggest emitters taking steps to draw up more ambitious reduction goals.
Of the 80 countries that have committed to setting more ambitious targets in 2020, most are small and developing nations that—collectively—account for barely 10 percent of the world’s emissions.
This means that those responsible for 90 percent of the world’s emissions have not committed to ambitious emission goals. And that, by and large, is the arguably the most disheartening fact of it all.
The COP25 meetings came to a close on Sunday, and officials left tired, exasperated, and frustrated. Protesters persevere outside government buildings and in city streets. Their signs are still held high, and their voices remain steadfast. Greta Thunberg continues to travel the globe and rally youth behind her. But many cannot help but wonder exactly how much more time is left.