The longest global climate conference in its 25-year history came to an end Sunday after negotiations ran nearly two days over its initial deadline. Unfortunately, talks in Madrid went about as well as they do every year at the United Nation’s (UN) historically ineffective summit: There was a lot of finger-pointing, not a lot of commitments to actionable change, and plenty of crucial decisions pushed to next year’s docket to worry about another day.
Member states delayed finalizing several measures about loss and damage until next year’s conference, and the few rules they did manage to nail down lack much, if any, teeth. A fierce point of contention, particularly among wealthier countries, this mechanism would allow for richer countries behind most of our planet’s carbon emissions to pay developing countries who have done little to cause climate change when climate disasters hit.
Officials also failed to come to a conclusion on a divisive part of the Paris Agreement known as Article 6 that focuses on carbon markets. Some of the stipulations in the article were suggested by oil giant Shell. The fight over how to regulate a complex carbon market system in which countries could essentially trade carbon pollution to supplement their individual emission-cutting efforts has been central to post-Paris Agreement negotiations, and this year’s talks kicked finalizing Article 6 down the road another year. Brazil was among the countries that attempted to water down Article 6 by essentially allowing countries to double count emissions reductions. Doing so would essentially put the goal of limiting warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of pre-industrial temperatures out of reach.
The Madrid talks’—known as COP25—somewhat circular final decision text “re-emphasizes with serious concern the urgent need to address the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation efforts in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 (...)”, and also “stresses the urgency of enhanced ambition in order to ensure the highest possible mitigation and adaptation efforts by all Parties.”
As for that finger-pointing I mentioned earlier: The U.S. Brazil, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and other G20 countries along with major oil, gas, and coal companies were largely responsible for impeding negotiations and obstructing any meaningful change. Additionally, civil society groups and developing countries criticized Canada, Japan, China, and India for their complacency and failure to push for a stronger collective response in the defense of smaller, more vulnerable nations.
Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation who played a key role in shaping the Paris Agreement said in a statement the outcome was a “mixed bag, and a far cry from what science tells us is needed.”
Greenpeace executive director Jennifer Morgan, was more direct in her statement about the outcome. She called it “totally unacceptable” and said “[d]ecision-makers now need to go home, regroup and think about how to move forward as we head into a critical 2020.”
Next year’s meetings are slated for Glasgow and countries are expected to announce more ambitious pledges to reduce their carbon pollution on top of dealing with Article 6 and loss and damage. The world is fast approaching a now or never moment. Despite 25 years of talks, carbon emissions have continued to new highs almost every year. The world has to start drawing down greenhouse gas pollution by more than 7 percent per year over the next decade to have any hopes of hitting the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal. With the weak agreement out of COP25 and the U.S.—the biggest historical emitter in the world—set to exit the Paris Agreement in November next year, the path to stave off a total crisis only gets harder.