The summary of COP 25 is one of disappointment. It was impossible to achieve consensus between countries to finalise the operating rules of the Paris Agreement and ensure that it became operational by 2020.
So, what happened and what does this mean for the climate crisis?
Multilateral climate governance impossible to establish by 2020
This 25th conference failed on several major negotiating issues, reflecting the profound differences between States that make it impossible to reach a unanimous decision. Three issues were particularly divisive:
- The first challenge was to raise countries’ climate ambitions, to make bigger commitments in light of the crisis we face. This was largely put aside. All states must submit a review of their commitments for COP 26 in 2020. However, at the current level of climate promises, within a decade, the objective of the Paris Agreement will no longer be achievable.
- The second challenge was to finalize the foundations for international cooperation to combat climate change – the contentious Article 6. The aim was to establish the rules for new international mechanisms for financing and transferring GHG emission reductions. Despite having almost complete texts on Saturday, the negotiators did not reach any agreement, as they were blocked by Brazil and Australia. Indeed, although these texts were not very ambitious (for example because they did not mention human rights to the great displeasure of NGOs) they nevertheless laid the essential foundations for cooperation mechanisms with the definition of central elements such as double counting, global mitigation in global emissions, the imposition of a form of tax for adaptation, the technical functioning of the MRV (monitoring, reporting and verification) process and governance. But alas, they remain non-functional.
- The third issue of this COP was financing, and in particular that of the most vulnerable countries (relating to both loss and damage caused by climate change). At the Copenhagen COP, States pledged to finance the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to the tune of more than 100 billion dollars per year by 2020. The question was how to raise this funding and how to secure it in the long term? The COP has not reached any tangible decision on the issue, which opens up a potential crisis of confidence if the Copenhagen promise is not fulfilled by 2020.
Negotiations were indeed very hard at the end of COP 25, the longest of all, with some states led by ultra-conservative governments. The USA (which will leave the Paris Agreement), Australia and Brazil, sought to reduce the scope of the texts and to introduce clauses that would jeopardise the environmental integrity of the tools designed. Brazil, for example, requested the possibility of double counting a reduced CO2e unit under Article 6 instruments. As well as this, major developing countries such as India and China have hidden behind the usual discourse that historically emitting and richer countries should lead by example, and have therefore not been the driving force.
Some good news for climate change
COP 25 did achieve something: the implementation of a global Gender Action Plan that will focus on disseminating and systematically integrating gender issues into climate policies. In addition, this “blue COP” highlighted the vital importance of the oceans for global equilibrium, leading to a final declaration calling for better consideration of the ocean and biodiversity to facilitate dialogue on the ocean and climate change on the one hand, and on land and adaptation to climate change on the other. This is important for COP26.
Taking matters into their own hands: the San Jose principles
In response to the lacklustre dynamic and the complete disconnect from the climate emergency, a group of countries agreed on a set of principles, known as the “San Jose Principles for High Ambition and Integrity of International Carbon Markets”, which form the basis on which a robust carbon market should be built. These principles were prepared by Costa Rica, which circulated them in an attempt to gain the most support. Support came from 23 EU and Latin American countries, 5 pacific islands and 2 countries in the Caribbean.
It remains to be seen how these ambitious principles, which were intended to drive forward the negotiations at COP 25, will translate into practice and whether they can help to achieve consensus at the next COP 26. The technical and political work agenda for these principles during 2020 will be key.
What now for the climate?
The emergency call was repeated by civil society (NGOs and corporates) over the course of COP 25, particularly in light of the current scientific consensus. We have just 10 years left before the opportunity of limiting global warming to 1.5°C will have passed. The only scenario that makes it possible is a 7.6% reduction of global GHG emissions every year between 2020 and 2030, and to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
This makes the lack of progress at COP 25 all the more disappointing and concerning. Fortunately, climate policy is conducted on all fronts and at various levels of decision-making: from the individual to the nation states, from local authorities to businesses. The side events of the COP, which remain an essential civil society forum for carrying messages on climate action, continue to demonstrate the presence of ambition at all these levels
Among the key initiatives of this COP 25, 73 countries (the world’s poorest countries and EU members including France, Great Britain and Germany), 398 cities (including many cities in the United States such as New York, Miami, etc.), 14 regions (including California, Scotland and Catalonia), as well as 786 companies of the Climate Ambition Alliance have committed themselves to increasing their climate ambitions and achieving net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.
Another highlight was the communication of the European Union’s Green Pact by its new President on 11 December and the agreement of the European Council of all Member States (except Poland, whose electricity mix is still heavily based on coal) on the ambition of climate neutrality in 2050, supported by a financing plan of €1,000 billion over 10 years.
In the end, in this context of stalled international climate negotiations, climate action in all its dimensions – political, financial, technological, social – will be built in the coming years via a voluntary approach, at all scales, based on the development of partnerships, coalitions and other cohorts of voluntary actors who commit to zero net emissions.
As the greatly anticipated Greta Thunberg stated at the conference “hope will not come from governments but from the people”. Following this COP, it appears that hope is not being delivered by international leadership. However, we can find it in the turning tide of public opinion and the burgeoning coalitions between ambitious parties who will continue to tackle the climate emergency regardless.