COP25: Leaders warn “lives are at stake”

On face value it is acceptable to think that the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP25, was a failure. But there are some positives to take from Chile-Madrid’s COP25.

Former UN climate chief, Yvo de Boer, once said of the famous COP15 in Copenhagen – of which 120 heads of state including Barack Obama attended – that he was expecting a multi-layered wedding cake but instead received a muffin. That muffin became the heart of the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement is the first global commitment to fight the climate crisis, with 195 governments pledging to keep average global warming temperatures to 1.5 degrees C, or well below 2 degrees C. Governments must implement new actions to deliver against an updated plan by COP26 in Glasgow next year. President Trump may be withdrawing the US from the Paris Agreement, but the country is still signed up to its overall mitigation of greenhouse emissions.

Climate Action Gap 

COP25 is seen as a failure for several reasons. It received no mandate on the Warsaw International Mechanism, which supports developing countries ravaged by climate chaos. Nor on Article 6.4, which obliges Parties to adopt rules for a mechanism supervised by the Conference of Parties to meet the Paris Agreement and overall mitigation in greenhouse emissions (OMGEs). But there is no need to say “OMG there’s no framework for OMGEs” just yet.

Bracing herself as she walked back to her office after closing the UN Climate Change Conference, COP President and Chilean Environment Minister, Carolina Schmidt Zaldivar, found a brave face to address a surrounding media scrum. But she could have focused on a less tweeted positive. While no mandate yet exists, by implementing Article 6.2, countries can start working on developing their carbon markets.

This will allow the European Union to link their Emissions Trading Scheme to the Swiss and ultimately the UK carbon trading markets. In fact, any country looking to develop a carbon market can seek to link it with other carbon markets. And from Mexico to China via South Korea and Indonesia, this is starting to happen. 

The US-based Environmental Defense Fund, describes a “yawning gap” between citizens’ calls for climate action and the reality of this year’s UN Climate Change Conference outcomes. The NGO indicates that twice the level of greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced through countries co-operating internationally – and at no extra cost.

Carbon Markets

The reality of carbon markets is that the greater the liquidity, the lower the cost of carbon emissions abatement. So, the faster countries roll out a coalition of high integrity emissions trading markets, the better it will be for everyone.

Add to that the EU’s inclusion of a World Trade Organization-legal border adjusted tariff (carbon tax). This will also help derail climate delinquent national governments with a rogue agenda.

“Lives and livelihoods are at stake. Lives, yes lives, are at stake,” said Simon Stiell, Environment Minister of small island state Grenada, in response to a journalist. “Every year we kick the can further down the road,” he said, referring to the excruciatingly slow UN Climate Change Conference process.

Australia, Brazil and the US (whose negotiator used to work for the International Emissions Trading Association, so understands carbon markets) were the countries primarily opposing progress at the talks. It was pointed out at a press conference of the High Level Ambition Coalition – which includes many small island states and the EU – that these countries, along with the European Research Group behind Brexit, were funded by the same Neoconservative-Libertarian sources.

The Grenadian Minister underlined that just a few people dictate the money that impacts all of us. “We know what needs to be done, we just have to get on and do it. Lives are [indeed] at stake,” he reiterated.

Non-State Climate Action

Speaking earlier in the week, former US Vice President Al Gore pointed out that by 2030, at a sub-national level the US would have reduced its greenhouse gas emissions around 37% below 2005 levels, without any federal level activity.

But most client scientists present at COP25 warn that we don’t even want to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius due to the runaway effects that will have on climate change. It’s clear 2020 is the year for business, sub-national governments and civil society to come together and sound the alarm. This may be our last chance to raise ambition at COP26, tackle the climate emergency – and ensure lives are no longer at stake.

Felix Von Geyer, Madrid

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