Climate Talks, COP25 - Madrid

COP25 – A lost opportunity?

This article is written by our Dele’Mates from the second week of COP25.

After a week of intense negotiations, it was time for the High-Level segment and more closed negotiations. Ministers arrived at the conference center to give short statements and continue working on several unresolved items from week one (e.g. Article 6, Finance, Loss and Damage). Furthermore, high-level speakers such as Greta Thunberg and Al Gore gave powerful statements about the urgency of the climate crisis. The two weeks were not only different in terms of negotiations, we also had two new Dele’Mates joining our team, Hugo and Venni. Throughout the second week, our team did not only get to experience the typical second-week tiredness from sleep deprivation and running around the massive conference center, but also the dramatic turns and unexpected events that took place.

Loss and Damage

In the beginning of the second week, a new draft text was issued by the co-facilitators on Loss and Damage. The proposal included three highly unclear points: financial support, strengthening of the workstream on action and support as well as options for technical support. For each of the points, three options were included. The first one was taken from a text proposed by G77+China the week before. The second text was based on statements made by mostly developed Parties, whereas the third option was introduced by the co-facilitators themselves. This draft text was delivered to the high level segment together with concerns raised by different parties.

During the second week, negotiations on Loss and Damage were closed to observers. Throughout the week, three new draft texts were presented. In the final text, the “Santiago Network” was established to facilitate technical support as well as an expert panel which will look into funding possibilities. NGOs and certain parties were hoping for the creation of “new and additional finance” targeted exclusively at Loss and Damage. This was, however, unfortunately not mentioned. This was particularly due to resistance from the United States. Instead, the text highlights the need for finance in action and support as well as the existing funding within the Green Climate Fund which is currently only targeting projects on adaptation and mitigation.

Another unresolved issue postponed to COP26, was related to the governance on Loss and Damage. The United States insisted that the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) on Loss and Damage would only report to the Paris Agreement (CMA), and not  to the Conference of the Parties (COP). This means that it would not affect the US after leaving the Paris Agreement.

Article 6

The negotiations on Article 6, an integral part of the Paris Agreement referring to market mechanisms, were at a critical stage at this COP.  An emission reduction scheme should have been established but difficulties still lie in technical issues. This scheme would ensure overall emission reduction targets and avoid « double counting » which is still supported by countries such as Brazil and Australia. It is still not clear whether « old » certificates from the Kyoto Protocol should be used in the new Article 6 regime. Those in favour of ambitious climate targets argued against it. Opponents of double counting argue that it should not be possible to sell emission reductions from a hydropower project and add them in your own NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions).

The “San José Principles” were established by a group of 31 countries led by Costa Rica, setting up demands for the high ambition and integrity of the markets. Some Parties have actively argued in favour of continuing negotiations at COP26 in Glasgow rather than going home with a bad deal. Once the deal is closed it is fixed. However, it is particularly important that market mechanisms include Human Rights and environmental safeguards as well as correct the shortcomings of the Clean Development Mechanism, and thereby effectively contribute to climate protection and the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Finance

To understand why we consider COP25 as a lost opportunity regarding climate finance, one should take a step back and reflect on the intention behind the word “ambition” when talking about financial issues.

Firstly, Parties had acknowledged the need for financial support and the responsibility of developed countries to support developing countries. The long-term pre-2020 ambition was to reach 100 billion dollars for both climate mitigation and adaptation. Some countries have updated their pledges for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the Adaptation Fund (AF) but it appears these pledges won’t be enough to reach the long-term goal. The Climate Action Network International estimated that only one third of the pre-2020 ambition could be reached with current pledges, which is why we need to keep advocating for Parties to make higher financial commitments.

Other important and unresolved issues were related to insufficient funds for adaptation and uncertainties in the Adaptation Fund. These uncertainties were a result of a failure to reach an agreement on Carbon markets within Article 6 negotiations. Reaching an agreement on this topic is crucial for climate finance, and thus for reaching the overall ambition. It’s therefore alarming that parties have not been able to reach an agreement on this matter. Several developing countries and the establishment of projects that accelerate the ecological transition, are dependent on these funds. Not being able to have an overview of what’s coming in the next few years will slow down the development of projects and their ability to facilitate the transition.

Another point on which finance negotiations didn’t succeed was related to Loss & Damage. As the impacts of the climate crisis are becoming more and more visible and destructive, developing countries need financial support to recover from climate-related disasters. Developed countries can be held accountable since they are the ones responsible for the climate crisis. However, rich countries have tried to avoid discussions related to funds, saying the discussion should be held under the negotiations related to the WIM (Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage) when discussed under Long Term Finance (LTF).

We also had an opportunity to discuss with EU negotiators who said that the main reason they don’t support the creation of a new finance mechanism for Loss & Damage is that they’ve already pledged funds through the Adaptation Fund (AF) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF). But, as said before, these funds are not sufficient and the distribution of money is still a debated issue in the negotiations, as half of the GCF funds being pledged should go to mitigation and the other half to adaptation.

But there’s also case for optimism. During the second week, financial ministers from several countries launched a new coalition, and we also heard about the “EU Green Deal”. These positive developments show that top leaders are waking up to the state of planetary emergency that we’re in. However, clear action has yet to be implemented. Although it feels good to hear that political pledges about climate finance are evolving, it is time to bridge the action gap. This means aligning words with actions, and actions with the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.

The Ocean

The Pacific Ocean overflowed the map. There was nowhere to put it. It was so big, unruly and blue that it did not fit anywhere. So they left it outside my window.” as said the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda when describing the sea (1966, Una casa en la arena).

The ocean discussions at COP reflected this thought: the ocean is a very cross-disciplinary topic, and according to a French delegate, the oceans are present in every agenda item. Indeed, if the ocean was a negotiation topic itself, it could lead to decisions disconnected from finance and the Action Agenda, for instance. However, this also prevents important decisions from being taken about ocean-related issues. This year, the ocean was more present during side-events than in previous years, and was for the first time included in the draft conclusion on Sunday the 15th of December. Two paragraphs were included about the role of our oceans in fighting climate change (see SBSTA text), despite Brazil’s attempt to remove them from the final decision. One of the final texts also requested a “dialogue on the ocean and climate change to consider how to strengthen mitigation and adaptation action” at the next meeting in Bonn in June 2020.

Moreover, the Chilean presidency announced that 39 countries are committed to include ocean-related initiatives and the protection of marine biodiversity in their revised nationally-determined contributions (NDCs) to be submitted in 2020.

There’s also more hope for the oceans after the UN declared the Decade of Ocean Science (beginning in 2021). The UN Treaty on the High Seas (beyond national jurisdictions) should be adopted in 2020 in order to address marine genetic resources, measures such as area-based management tools including Marine Protected Areas, environmental impact assessment and capacity building as well as transfer of marine technology.

Fashion / Textile Industry

There was an assessment of the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action which was launched one year ago at COP24 in Poland.In the Charter, the Fashion Industry has pledged to work towards a net-zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions goal in 2050. Signatories (businesses, suppliers, manufacturers and organisations) shared existing solutions and innovative initiatives to accelerate progress towards achieving this goal. Although the Charter sets high ambitions, we could see that the industry is mostly focused on energy use reduction, and not on fostering circular economy, reducing waste or improving social conditions for workers.

Civil Society and Indigenous Communities

At COP25 there was an unprecedented attempt to diminish the space for civil society. In the first week, the 25-year old tradition of distributing the daily ECO newsletter was forbidden inside the COP venue. The official “reason” for the ban was related to the appeal for a paperless COP. Even outside the venue newsletter distributors were controlled by police. After a massive civil society mobilization, and strong support from Party delegates, the Secretariat let ECO back in around the end of the first week.

On Tuesday, the traditional ceremony of the Fossil of the Day, which awards Parties for “being the best at being the worst”, was restricted due to “inadequate resources” to assure proper security for the action during the High Level Segment. Nonetheless, CAN decided to proceed and went ahead with the action which ended up being authorized only 20 minutes before it took place.

On Wednesday the 11th, two unauthorized actions took place inside the COP25 venue. The first one took place after a panel discussion with Greta Thunberg in the morning. Fridays For Future activists stormed the stage in the big Plenary Hall to demand more ambition and to help Greta get away from press by sneaking out of the room through the back door. The activists involved in this protest did not face any consequences.

In the afternoon, an unprecedented action took place in the venue in front of the Baker Plenary Hall where ministers were attending a high-level session. The CAN had asked for authorization for the action but the Secretariat refused. The different Constituencies taking part in the action (e.g. CAN, Gender & Women, Indigenous People) decided to do it anyway and were thus at risk of being debadged. More than 500 people participated inside and more than 300 continued to protest outside after the security decided to push a vast majority of protesters outside the venue. Youth, indigenous and environmental NGOs were asking for climate justice and demanding real action. The rest of the day observers were not allowed to enter the building, whether they had participated in the protest or not. The drastic measures taken by the security were criticized not only by observers but also by Party delegates, and was seen as an attempt to exclude civil society from participating in the conference. After intense discussions, a statement by the UN Secretariat was released on Thursday morning.

Some of our Dele’Mates took part in this protest, you can find their statement here.

The American Campaign

COP25 was not short of Hollywood star and billionaire appearances. Democratic presidential contender and billionaire Michael Bloomberg and Hollywood movie star Harrison Ford made a short appearance at the WWF pavilion to draw attention to the issues that the current president of the United State decides to ignore. Also former Vice President Al Gore gave his very famous slide-show presentation on climate change in the big Plenary Hall. The message was clear: President Donald Trump is not the only voice shaping current climate policy in the US.

The American initiative #WeAreStillIn did not lack visibility or attention during their 3-day campaign at the WWF pavilion. At a high-level side event, Michael Bloomberg handed over the Accelerating America’s Pledge report to Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Patricia Espinosa, to show their continued commitment to stand by the Paris Agreement and to curb the emissions of the biggest carbon polluter in history. Several American business leaders, US states and cities stand in direct opposition to Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement by supporting this report.

Accelerating America’s Pledge provides a roadmap for ambitious US emission reduction targets and the process of decarbonizing the economy. For instance, the report states that the US would pledge to halve their emissions by 2030 in the event of a democratic election win in 2020. However, one can question whether high-level appearances from billionaire presidential contenders are appropriate at COPs that are supposed to be politically neutral.

Science

The message from scientists was clear: We are in a state of planetary emergency. The two landmark reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Climate Change and Land and on the Ocean and Cryosphere were presented at COP25 along with the scientific synthesis “United in Science”. These reports show the grim reality of how different parts of the earth system are changing due to the rapidly rising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration, and how we might indeed be approaching irreversible tipping points in different earth system components (e.g. ice melt, permafrost, deforestation, ocean circulation).

The report “10 New Insights in Climate Science” was put together by some of the leading climate scientists to provide an easy-to-read guide for negotiators and the general public. Although both IPCC reports were taken into account (read: noted not welcomed) in the final draft conclusions (despite attempts to remove them during the Closing Plenary), Alden Meyer from the Union of Concerned Scientists stated that he had “never seen such a disconnect between what science requires and what the climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful action”.

The Outcome

COP25 ended up being the longest UN climate change conference on record. After the scheduled ending time on Friday, the negotiations were extended for the whole weekend and ended on Sunday the 15th of December 2019 at 1:55 pm. There was an immense pressure to adopt several crucial items in the Paris Agreement rulebook, and to deliver ambitious climate pledges on a global scale. Despite the pressure, the conference ended up being a complete failure.

According to Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General,  “the international community lost an important opportunity to show increased abmition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis”. However, he stated he would not give up and is more determined than ever to increase ambition in 2020. Also the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Patricia Espinosa, criticized the lack of results on the much-needed carbon markets and of signals for enhanced NDCs for 2020.

Several unresolved issues remain such as, no deal on carbon markets, no agreement on common timelines for NDCs and no heightened ambitions on finance and support for developing countries. The clear divide between the big polluters and the rest of the world persists.

Although richer countries did not live up to expectations, parties managed to adopt a Gender Action Plan, note (not welcome) the recent IPCC reports, and parties will also have to deliver on their climate pledges in the upcoming year thanks to compromises at COP25. However, the call for more ambitious pledges are weak. The current ambitions are far from where they need to be considering the urgent climate state we’re in, and sometimes it does indeed feel like we’re sleep-walking to the edge of a cliff. However, we cannot let this discourage us.

It was empowering to see so many new young observer participants and indigenous people raising their voices, standing up for their futures and demanding action from our (sleep-walking) decision-makers! We need to stand up like never before, educate ourselves and others, and focus on raising the voices of vulnerable indigenous communities around the world who have been fighting this fight for a long time.

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