Reflections on COP 25

Ben Wilson, our policy officer, reports upon his experience at COP 25 in Madrid.

As the UN Climate Talks in Madrid (COP 25) draw to a close, it is already clear that negotiations will fail to deliver the action needed, and pressure will be piled on next year’s COP in Glasgow to deliver a better result. 2020 will be a defining year for the future of our planet and its people. The time for waiting is over. We need action now.

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Inside the halls, meeting rooms and plenary spaces of the vast IFEMA Conference Centre in Madrid you could be forgiven for forgetting that you are in Spain. Each year the COP comes to town and creates a world of its own. Whether you are in Katowice, Bonn, Marrakech or Paris, the view from the negotiating table is frustratingly similar. Each year the negotiations are characterised by the same tedious bickering, the dragging of heels, and the proactive vandalism of the process by big polluting countries.

One of the defining issues this year has been discussions around article 6 of the Paris Agreement that details how countries can cooperate to reduce emissions by trading emissions reductions. So-called ‘carbon markets’ enable emitters to pay others rather than reduce their own emissions directly. It privileges wealthy states over poorer states, can lead to land-grabbing and wreak havoc on developing country economies.

Climate Change

The time for reliance on these markets has run out. We are on the verge of an irreversible pathway to calamitous levels of warming, and all carbon must be rapidly reduced all over the planet.

The talks have also failed to produce an outcome on the issue of reparations to developing countries for the devastation caused by climate change. Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that developing countries who have done the least to cause this crisis will suffer most dramatically, many developed countries have shamelessly worked together to try to wriggle out of commitments to on financial compensation.

Front of the pack on these issues has been the United States. Despite the fact they intend to withdraw from the Paris Agreement next year, they have been determined to shape these discussions in their own short-term interests. The US has been joined by Australia in refusing to meet their pre-existing commitments on climate finance, and by Brazil and Saudi Arabia in trying to block use of the words “climate urgency” in the official texts.

In 2019, climate change has finally become a front-and-centre issue, thanks to the leadership of our young people. Last Friday night, hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of Madrid calling on the negotiators to put aside their short-term political self-interests and take the action needed to protect the planet and its people. Yet the cries from the streets of Madrid were largely left unheard, and the negotiations tip-toed on at a sluggish pace.

As these talks conclude without adequate resolutions and statements of ambitious action that are required, the expectation on COP26 in Glasgow next year grows high.

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When world leaders come to Glasgow - the cradle of Empire and the furnace of the industrial revolution - we will have a major opportunity. The leaders will be coming to a city which is guilty of historical sins against the planet and its people, but also a city with a proud history of resistance and reinvention. When the world comes to the banks of the River Clyde next November, thousands will be outside in the cold, demanding leaders do the right thing to secure the planet’s, and our children’s, future.