UN Climate Talks End in a Stalemate

This year’s edition of the UN Climate Change Conference – COP25 – came under threat before it even began. Originally supposed to be held in Santiago, it was initially called off by the host due to the ongoing protests against the Chilean government, before being moved to Madrid on a very short notice. 

Thousands of delegates – including governments, scientists, NGOs and activists – descended to Madrid from Dec 3 onwards to finalise the rulebook of the Paris Agreement and settle all the nitty-gritty details regarding the long-term strategy against climate change once the 2020 deadline, set by the Paris Agreement, takes effect. 

During the two-week negotiations, longest in conference’s 25-year history, that concluded Sunday afternoon, around 190 countries participated and agreed to set more ambitious goals to fight climate change. 

However, the summit failed to see any breakthroughs in terms of clear-cut commitments as major irritants, such as the technicalities of Article 6 – that governs the international carbon markets – couldn’t be resolved and were carried forward to the next meeting of the UN climate process in Bonn in 2020. 

UN Secretary-General wasn’t happy with how things transpired at COP25 and remarked: “I am disappointed with the results of COP25. The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis.”

While not many were expecting any significant developments in terms of emission targets at COP25, it was nonetheless a great opportunity to lay down a clear roadmap before 2020 kicks off, which is when all parties are to submit nationally determined contributions (NDCs) for cutting emissions as per their commitments under the Paris Agreement of 2015.

The summit witnessed a clear divide in terms of the aspirations of member states with the biggest emitters showing a lack of interest while the smaller countries taking a stronger stance. 

On the one hand were the likes of Australia, Brazil and the United States (already pulling out of the Paris Agreement next year) blocking ambitious language in the proposals, while on the other stood smaller states, particularly islands that are more vulnerable to climate change, demanding urgency. 

In fact, the Alliance of Small Island States even lashed out at India, China and Brazil for stalling progress on Article 6. This was specifically regarding the carry forward of Kyoto units (which allowed billions of units of certified emissions reductions) with India, China and Brazil contesting for its inclusion in Article 6.4 as carbon credits while the EU being against this proposal on grounds that it would lower the ambition even further. 

Much of the negotiations were eventually reduced to technicalities regarding Article 6, including the structure of carbon markets and the accounting principles to be applied in order to avoid double-counting among other issues. 

The jointly adopted text at the end recognised the “significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation efforts in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.”

It further mentions the commitment of developed countries to mobilise $100 billion a year by 2020 to help address the needs of developing nations. 

But negotiations on the wider climate finance issue, that deals with access to funds for cutting emissions for developing countries saw major disagreements as the parties concerned wanted a broader interpretation that also covered loss and damages. Eventually, an agreement was reached to form an expert panel to consider aid for loss and damages along with “Santiago network” for facilitating technical support. 

The topic of common metrics, which deals with the reporting and conversion of non-CO2 emissions onto C02 equivalent. At the heart of the issue was methane and the countries that produce it great amounts: namely Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. These three were unable to convince the rest to report conversions using their preferred unit but managed to secure this option as complementing the benchmark. 

Meanwhile, the growing disconnect between the policymakers and the wider population was witnessed when hundreds of thousands of angry protestors gathered in Madrid to demand more urgency in action.  

All wasn’t that gloomy though as the conference saw the unveiling of a five-year gender action plan for supporting the “implementation of gender-related decisions and mandates in the UNFCCC processes.”

While not exactly occurring in Madrid, another glimpse of hope came during the course of the conference from Brussels when the European Commission revealed a European Green Deal, that plans to commit at least 25% of the union’s long-term budget towards climate action while raising its NDC target for 2030. 

The countries will now meet in Bonn the coming June for an inter-sessional meeting but the key issues will have to addressed in Glasgow, which will host COP26 in November. Experts have their eyes fixed on EU-China talks in Leipzig since the bulk of the responsibility falls on them now with the US out of the equation.