What to expect from the global COP25 climate talks

global COP25 climate talks madrid 2019

Today marks the beginning of the global COP25 climate talks, the UN Climate Change Conference taking place this year in Madrid from December 2-13. As leaders from around the world gather to discuss how to achieve the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2C and towards 1.5C, here are a few outcomes you can expect from COP25.

The Paris Agreement

After losing its original host at the last minute due to mass protests about social inequality in Chile, the Conference of the Parties summit organiser UNFCCC quickly agreed to Madrid four weeks ago. But that doesn’t mean it will be a half-baked summit. The Chilean Presidency had named this year the “COP of ambition”, referring to raising the ambitions of the national climate commitments that were first agreed at COP15 in Paris. Throughout the year as many as 68 countries have signalled their intentions to strengthen their commitments — known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) — ahead of next year’s COP, which is the deadline for their pledges.

While we hope world leaders will agree a timeline for NDC submissions, as well as determining when the UNFCCC synthesis report will reveal if NDCs are on track to achieve the Paris Agreement goal, you can expect disagreements too. The spotlight will not only be on those countries that are raising NDC ambitions for 2020, but also on the heads of state who are staying quiet. The world will be watching over the coming weeks and months to see if these big carbon emitters will adopt the same reductions goals as nations leading the way to securing a clean, resilient and safe future for us all. Their inaction will seem especially damning in 2019, the year of mass engagement on climate change. Very few countries have missed the incredible Extinction Rebellion protests or student climate strikes led by Greta Thunberg. 

Greta Thunberg at COP25

Greta is of course in Madrid for COP25, having sailed with a family from the US over the last two months. Expect a viral speech on a newsfeed near you soon. She will want to make clear that while the technical issues are critical to the success of the summit and Paris Agreement, we are out of time. In the last six months, reports from the IPCC, UNEP and others have made clear that we risk the end of all life on earth — much sooner than estimated — if we don’t make urgent changes. This means drastically reducing or stopping emissions as soon as possible. Will Greta’s presence wake the laggard countries up? We can only hope. COP25 will foreshadow the success of the all-important COP26 in Glasgow next year, so it must act as a positive boost towards 2020. 

While the big picture stories make headlines, there will also be a lot of sensitive and complex issues discussed. Beyond the safety of every species on earth, here is what you can expect from COP25:

  • Green Climate Fund – So far, 28 wealthy countries have pledged $9.7 billion towards helping poor countries address climate change. But we need pledges to double and are still waiting on developed countries including Australia and the US to give anything at all. With Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement, we won’t hold our breath. 
  • Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) for Loss and Damage – Parties will look at how to strengthen the WIM, which is designed to help vulnerable countries deal with irreversible climate impacts. As time speeds on and more livelihoods are destroyed, the need for this mechanism to be robust is crucial.
  • Katowice Guidelines – At last year’s COP in Poland, guidelines were created for implementing the Paris Agreement. Two issues need to be ironed out at COP25, though: the rules about voluntary carbon markets — filed under dreaded ‘Article 6’ in the Agreement — as well as agreement on the implementation period of NDCs, known as the Common Time Frame. The time frame we want is a short, sharp 2021-2025. 

While climate change has always been an urgent issue to solve for scientists and pioneering businesses and governments, 2019 is the year when countries around the world — including the European Union last week — have finally raised the alarm and declared a climate emergency. Australian fires, floods in Italy and the start of mass climate migration is showing us what the beginning of the end looks like. COP25 is a final chance for leaders to raise ambition on NDC targets, deadlines and implementation. These last hurdles towards 2020 will make the Paris Agreement seem like a breeze. 

Earlier this year we found out we only had 18 months, not 10 years, to avert climate catastrophe. That window is now 12 months. COP25 should launch a historic year of urgent climate action. Our lives depend on a positive outcome in the two weeks of the UN Climate Change Conference. Expect drama, dragged heels and the beautiful optimism of 194 countries coming together to fight one common enemy — and win one shared prize. A future. 

Access the schedule to see how the events will unfold over the next two weeks.

View livestream of the event and get involved in the climate change discussion.

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