“Utterly inadequate,” are the words chosen by the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to describe present efforts to reach emission reduction targets. With the climate crisis only increasing in severity, one would think that the failing commitment of most countries’ Paris commitments would produce an impassioned atmosphere at this years World Climate Change Conference in Madrid (Conference of the parties -COP25). But according to a Guardian report on the conference, that is exactly what is lacking:
The sense of urgency scientists have warned is needed, and that is felt in the outside world among those worst affected by climate breakdown, is still missing from these negotiating rooms.
The importance of COP
Only next year, at the London Conference of the Parties, will countries have to update their Paris commitments (established at COP21). Of the 184 countries who made climate change pledges at the 2015 Paris summit, a report published in November by the Universal Ecological Fund deemed only 36 pledges sufficient. Meanwhile, there is much concern over the proposed energy charter treaty (ECT). As it stands, the ECT could significantly undermine present and future climate actions.
Gulf between ambition and action
These conferences have for years been trying to increase the ambitions and expediency of our responses to climate change. However, Naoyuki Yamagishi of WWF Japan saw COP25 as a “last chance” to raise such ambitions. COP25 unfortunately ended without realizing many of its attendees’ goals for increased ambition, but not through a lack of passion. Delegates loudly voiced the need for increased ambitions regarding emissions reduction targets and expedited timetables. There nevertheless remained till the end of the conference a discordance between the clarion call and final agreements.
A gap also persists between who is emphasizing “ambition”, in addition to the variegated details regarding the extent and even definition of the ambition. Generally, vulnerable and/or developing countries are among the most dedicated to ambition-related proposals and language, such as the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), while rich, developed countries often either had other priorities or a more lax attitude towards ambition (see chart in this Carbonbrief report).
Despite dedicated efforts, delegates deemed the ambition-related texts initially produced at the end of COP25 largely insufficient. So insufficient that some groups not only described the texts as failures, but as products that actually undermined the Paris Agreement. However, after the voiced-concerns over these ambition-texts were heard at the closing plenary session, amendments were made to strengthen these texts, which are now titled Chile Madrid Time for Action. The amendments did not drastically reduce much of the concern though.
For a final report on COP25, see the report by Earth Negotiations
Youth takes action
While one may view COP25 as another substantive failure, delegates and activists displayed powerful resolve and passion, particularly youth. In regards to the climate crisis, joint director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact, Johan Rockström, says that there is an “inability to recognize that there is an emergency.”
However, the world’s youth are proving an exception to this, at COP25 and beyond. Children and young adults have recently been an inspiring and galvanizing force for change in the climate movement (see Aljazeera). However, the onus still rests on our decision-makers, public and private, to fulfill their climate change commitments. Moreover, cooperation and solidarity are what is ultimately necessary. COP25 proved that some harmony is still lacking and that it should be our renewed focus in the new decade.