Climate Change Conference

COP25, a guide to the climate conference in Madrid: 5 things you need to know

25,000 delegates meet for the COP25 from 2 to 13 December. What can we hope this UN climate change conference, whose venue was changed from Santiago de Chile to Madrid, will achieve?

The COP25, the 25th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is taking place in Madrid between 2-13 December. The Spanish capital is hosting the event after Santiago de Chile withdrew, although the South American government has retained the Convention’s presidency. Approximately 25,000 scientists, experts, government delegates and NGO representatives are joining forces to ensure that 2020 marks a turning point in the fight against climate change.

The negotiations won’t be easy: certain countries’ political will in this regard is low, if not completely absent. A number of points need to be settled that haven’t yet been agreed upon globally since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. The most important goal of the COP25 is to create a roadmap to review the promises made by governments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The ones that have been made so far won’t be enough to avoid a climate catastrophe, even if they were fully adhered to. Here, then, is what you can expect from the Madrid conference for it be deemed successful.

Read more: Lights and shadows of the Paris Agreement

1. Improving promises to cut emissions

The Paris Agreement clearly states that, to avoid the worst possible consequences, average global temperatures can’t increase by more than 2 degrees Centigrade before the end of the century compared to pre-industrial levels. And that we should aim to stay as close as possible to 1.5 degrees.

These figures would still lead to great upheavals according to the Special Report 15 by the IPCC (UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). In order to increase each nation’s promised reductions, their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) need to be reviewed.

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres opens the COP25 in Madrid © Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The NDCs, consisting of each country’s promises to cut CO2 emissions, were submitted to the UNFCCC in the lead-up to the COP21 in Paris in 2015. But according to the UN, even if the promises were kept, the predicted scenario would be of a 3.2-degree increase by 2100. So more needs to be done. A lot more.

In its most recent report, Emissions Gap, published just days before the start of the COP25, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) explains that to change course and achieve the 1.5 degrees goal emissions would need to be cut by 7.6 per cent a year from today to 2030. The Paris Agreement had predicted that this would be necessary and that NDCs would need to be reviewed every five years.

2. Putting pressure on great powers

The first deadline for this review, therefore, is 2020. So far, however, only one country, the Marshall Islands, has presented its documentation to the UNFCCC. 68 other nations have committed to doing so next year. But these, together, are responsible for only 7 per cent of global CO2 emissions. The world’s great economic powers have yet to declare their commitments. The case of the United States is particularly troublesome: climate-sceptic president Donald Trump has even set the process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement in motion, calling it “detrimental” to US interests. China‘s position is also problematic. It’s the global leader in terms of renewable energy production, and doesn’t want to leave the agreement, but it keeps building new coal power stations that are completely incompatible with the fight against climate change.

Brazil, governed by ultra-conservative Jair Bolsonaro, is also going through a difficult phase. Massive deforestation is being carried out in the Amazon rainforest, depriving the planet of a green lung that absorbs a significant portion of the CO2 emitted by humans. “And, even worse, some nations have stated they don’t want to review their NDCs at all, Japan being a case in point,” denounces Lucile Dufour of the Climate Action Network, a group of environmental associations that is participating in the COP25 in Madrid. Pressure needs to be exerted in any way possible, from below and above. Detractors of the fight against climate change should be isolated so that the more responsibly governed nations have the courage to openly call out those who aren’t working to guarantee a future for next generations.

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The COP25 in Madrid will set the tone for the following year, crucial for the fate of our climate © Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

3. Implementing the Emissions Trading System

In Paris in 2015 a system was devised to help achieve global climate objectives by trading emissions quotas. The Emissions Trading System (ETS) is based on the idea of quantifying a maximum level of emissions at the global level. This is then transformed to define “pollution rights” distributed between nations and companies. Therefore, those who emit less can sell their carbon credits to the less virtuous. The latter should thus be incentivised to do better and avoid such costs.

The system isn’t perfect. It has been adopted in Europe, for example, where it has received major criticism because the value of carbon credits, left to be determined by the free market, has fallen to extremely low levels. This meant that their power as deterrents for big polluters has been lost. A second problem is that, though the system is mentioned in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, no consensus was reached about its practical application either at the COP22 in Marrakech, COP23 in Bonn or COP24 in Katowice.

4. Increasing funding for poorer countries

The COP25 is also expected to provide new impetus from a financial perspective. The world’s poorest nations are the ones that already suffering and will increasingly be the most affected by the climate crisis. However, they’re also the ones that have least contributed to its causes. This is why, starting from the COP15 held in Copenhagen in 2009, it was decided that richer nations should provide funds to aid developing countries.

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A child wading through high tide in Kiribati © Josh Haner, 2016

At the time, a figure of 100 billion dollars a year up to 2020 was set out. It received further confirmation at the COP21 in Paris. However, this has never been allocated in full. Last October, the donor countries behind the Green Climate Fund – created in 2014 to support the transition to a zero carbon economy – committed to providing 9.8 billion dollars over the next four years. An encouraging sign, but still nowhere near sufficient.

5. The COP25’s success depends on us too

Waiting for governments and corporations to act isn’t enough. Our own individual behaviours will also be key in saving the Earth’s climate. Transportation choices, diet, energy saving, sustainable internet use: there are countless ways to contribute. And if people in regione such as Europe think that “China and the US are the worst culprits”, then it’s worth highlighting something that often goes unmentioned.

Over the past few decades Western countries have outsourced their most polluting industries to other countries, China first and foremost. The smartphone on which you’re reading this article was likely made in China. This means that the CO2 emissions linked to its production are quantified as coming from the latter country, even though the products are used elsewhere, such as in the West. Thus, if annual per capita emissions are considered, these are actually higher in Europe than they are China, according to UN data: 6.1 tonnes per average Chinese citizen, compared to 8.1 tonnes for European ones.

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