After two additional days of negotiating at the UN climate talks in Madrid (COP25), governments agreed on a formal recognition of the need to bridge the gap between greenhouse gas targets set in the Paris Agreement in 2015 and more recent scientific advice that says much more needs to be done.
While few countries came up with new targets during the conference, delegates loosely agreed that new climate pledges needed to be on the table by next November, when a key summit will take place in Glasgow. In the meantime, current targets put us on track for approximately 3°C of heating, a temperature increase that scientists have said will have devastating consequences.
Many were disappointed by the low ambitions of the climate talks, the failure to reach agreements over key issues, such as a consensus on common rules for a global carbon market, and the continued arguing over technical details. Brazil, India, the US, China, Australia and other major carbon emitters were accused of holding up progress. Decisions regarding carbon markets and financial assistance for poor countries to cope with the impacts of the climate emergency were put off until next year.
“I am disappointed with the results of COP25,” said Antonio Guterres, UN secretary general. “The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis.”
Activists took centre-stage while discussions continued and loopholes were defended during the climate talks. Around 500,000 people marched through Madrid with Greta Thunberg at the helm, who said that the last year of protests had “achieved nothing” as countries were still failing to bring forward the measures needed.
“Never have I seen such a disconnect between what the science requires and what the climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful action,” said Alden Meyer, strategy chief at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Most of the world’s biggest emitting countries are missing in action and resisting calls to raise their ambition.”
Research published during the two weeks of climate talks showed that greenhouse gas emissions have risen 4% since the Paris accord was signed in 2015, and the world will need to cut carbon by more than 7% a year in the next decade to observe scientific advice.
“The consensus is still not there to increase ambition to the levels that we need,” said Carolina Schmidt, Chilean environment minister and conference president. “Before finishing I want to make a clear and strong call to the world to strengthen political will and accelerate climate action to the speed that the world needs. The new generations expect more from us.”
Schmidt also said that the agreements reached were not enough to address the urgency of the crisis on climate change. While there was a general consensus that stricter carbon targets are needed, many of the talking points will be carried over to the 2020 conference.
The EU came up with the strongest new plan, finally agreeing a goal of reaching net-zero carbon by 2050. Numerous smaller countries agreed similar long-term targets, but other major emitters held back. The European Green Deal also promised a new circular economy action plan for March 2020, as well as a new biodiversity strategy.
There was widespread recognition that long-term targets are not enough, and there is pressure to create a short-term climate plan for the next 10 years.
Li Shuo, a Greenpeace East Asia policy adviser, said: “COP25 demonstrated the collective ambition fatigue of the world’s largest [greenhouse gas] emitters.”
Photography courtesy of UN Climate Change.
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