The COP25 climate summit starting Monday won’t end the danger of climate change.
Rather, the summit being held in Madrid is aimed at making the rough ways smooth and preparing the ground for next year’s COP26 summit, when countries will be under pressure to boost the climate pledges they made in 2015 in Paris.
“Next year is a critical test what countries are prepared to do to put us on a trajectory toward the goals of the Paris Agreement,” said David Waskow of the World Resources Institute. “This COP can be seen as a marker … a stepping stone to what has to happen next year.”
While past summits have often been tinged with enthusiasm about the prospects of the world community gathering to tackle climate change, this year’s gathering is likely to be a gloomier affair.
There is a drumbeat of scientific reports warning that the world is failing to cut emissions. The U.S. is abandoning the Paris Agreement, and there is growing public frustration over the inability of politicians to halt global warming.
“There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement” — Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization
Even the venue of the summit shows growing global strains of climate change and social justice; it was shifted at the last minute from Santiago after violent demonstrations against the Chilean government.
Here are six narratives set to dominate the two weeks of talks:
1. Rising emissions threaten the Paris Agreement’s goals
Four years on, the world is doing worse than ever in reaching the goals of the Paris deal.
“There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement,” Petteri Taalas, the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, warned this week as data showed that levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached another record last year.
That means “future generations will be confronted with increasingly severe impacts of climate change, including rising temperatures, more extreme weather, water stress, sea level rise and disruption to marine and land ecosystems,” Taalas said.
Governments will have to significantly boost their emissions cuts, the U.N. Environment Program said this week.
Keeping warming to well below 2 degrees would require emission cuts of 25 percent by 2030, compared to 2018, the U.N. said. Reaching 1.5 degrees — the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious target — would require countries to slash emissions by 55 percent, or 7.6 percent a year between 2020 and 2030.
But over the past decade, emissions rose at a rate of 1.5 percent per year. There is “no sign of [greenhouse gas] emissions peaking in the next few years,” the body warned.
2. Carbon trading is a contentious solution
The big task in Madrid will be striking a deal on how to use carbon markets and allow countries to trade emission credits to reduce worldwide pollution.
That’s meant to help cut emissions more cheaply and boost investments in climate-friendly projects. But past experience has shown that it’s risky to use carbon market schemes without having checks and a proper accounting system in place.
“Compromises that put environmental integrity at risk are not acceptable to us,” outgoing Energy and Climate Action Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete said this week.
Observers warn against striking an agreement at any cost.
“The decisions we take at COP25 must prevent the double counting of emissions reductions” — where both buyers and sellers would record emission cuts — he said. A transparent system will also be crucial to ensure that carbon credits used by airlines under the industry’s global Corsia carbon-offsetting scheme will be accounted for.
The EU and allies such as island and vulnerable countries also want to prevent the new system from allowing countries to use older emission permits from the 1997 Kyoto protocol climate regime. But countries like Brazil, which hold vast amounts of the credits, will dig in their heels. That fight nearly blew up last year’s COP24 climate summit, and similar drama is expected in Madrid.
Observers warn against striking an agreement at any cost. “Agreeing to weak or bad rules to meet an artificial deadline could do more damage in undermining climate ambition than delaying the rules another year,” said the World Resources Institute, an NGO.
3. So is the financing
The world’s rich countries pledged to mobilize an annual $100 billion in climate finance by 2020. OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said earlier this fall that the goal was attainable but called on countries to boost their efforts. Meanwhile, negotiations for a new — and higher — global climate finance goal are expected to start next year.
In Madrid, developing countries will push rich nations to step up their financial support, saying it is part of their historical responsibility for driving emissions over the past century.
As worsening climate change raises economic and social costs for vulnerable nations, there are also growing calls for funds to deal with loss and damage. “We need support in addressing these impacts — loss of lives, destruction of infrastructure, wiping out of crops, displacement — to protect our communities and people from further suffering,” Sonam P. Wangdi, the Bhutanese chair of the Least Developed Country Group said Friday.
Few expect high-ranking U.S. officials to show up.
That will be one of the trickiest issues negotiators will discuss in Madrid thanks to concerns that it would expose wealthy nations to liability claims.
4. The United States is flying under the radar
Washington has changed from a crucial player under the Obama administration to the world’s only country committed to pulling out of the Paris Agreement under Donald Trump.
That makes it politically dangerous for U.S. negotiators to have a high profile in Madrid. Few expect high-ranking officials to show up. Instead, career State Department negotiators will participate in discussions but act as technical experts rather than exert influence over the process.
“I don’t think the senior levels of the administration are paying much attention to this,” said Barry Worthington, executive director of the U.S. Energy Association, who has spoken at Trump administration-hosted events at previous climate conferences. “If they are, it’s not apparent.”
But the U.S. will bring an unofficial representation. Mayors, state officials, businesses, members of Congress and other sections of civil society will meet with representatives from other nations. They hope to show a wide swath of the nation is still committed to steep carbon reductions and that the U.S. can be trusted to forge ahead no matter who occupies the White House.
“I don’t think there is necessarily a delegation lead,” said Elan Strait, director of U.S. climate campaigns for the World Wildlife Fund and a former Obama administration State Department negotiator. “Each of the actors represent their own entity at the COP but also is representing a broader movement.”
5. Climate neutrality by 2050 looms large
Next year, countries are also due to come up with long-term emissions strategies to 2050.
One big battle in Madrid will be how many countries, and especially major polluters, will adopt strategies to slash emissions to net zero. Climate neutrality has surged to the top of the agenda, spurred by a U.N. climate science report late last year that caused international shock by spelling out the dire consequences of even 1.5 degrees of warming.
The EU is due to adopt a mid-century climate neutrality target at a leaders’ summit taking place in Brussels before the end of the COP25. Agreeing the target would help the bloc leave Madrid with a strong climate message, and build pressure on major emitters — above all China — to follow suit.
6. As does COP26
COP25 comes ahead of a crucial deadline next year, when countries are due to resubmit — and ideally increase — the climate pledges they made in Paris four years ago.
The signs so far don’t bode well for a dramatic change in policy.
Current commitments under the Paris Agreement would lead to over 3 degrees of warming by the end of the century.
The signs so far don’t bode well for a dramatic change in policy.
A lot will depend on G20 countries, which account for around 78 percent of global emissions. The EU is locked in a political fight over whether and by how much to boost its 2030 emissions goals — its pledge under Paris. Climate watchers are keeping a keen eye on China, which hasn’t clearly signaled whether it intends to boost the lackluster pledge it made in 2015 to peak its CO2 emissions by 2030.
Meanwhile, several major emitters, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, South Africa and the U.S., aren’t even on track to meet their current Paris commitments, according to the U.N.
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