So, in the end, the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference accomplished nothing. The delegates from 194 countries who gathered for two weeks in Madrid, didn’t manage to raise their emission-cut ambitions, didn’t succeed in establishing an international carbon market and didn’t figure out how to fund poorer countries’ climatic effort. Yet, the final text approved by the assembly two days after the original deadline, acknowledged the ‘significant gap’ between existing pledges and temperature targets prescribed by the Paris Agreement, which will enter into force next year.
In other words, nothing unexpected happened.
Ambivalences, oppositions, irresolutions, double plays, overtimes and vague declarations, have regularly been juggled by the circus called UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change), since it was established in 1992. Apparently, the only exceptions were in 1997 (when the Kyoto Protocol was signed) and in 2015 (when the Paris Agreement was born). However, the former was rocked by the US Senate which never ratified it and the latter is now plagued by the voluntary approach in emission cuts that was adopted in order to reach the needed unanimity. The trouble is that Kyoto was considered to be just a first step ahead (it wasn’t) and Paris to be just a framework for an escalating and bolder series of climate actions (it isn’t). As expected, only the European Union and a group of small countries led by the Marshall Islands declared an increased ambition in their commitments.
As usual, every decision is now postponed until next year’s COP26 in Glasgow, curiously to be co-hosted by the UK and Italy. The so-called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) will still remain discretionary. But the birth of a sound carbon market, recommended by Article 6 of the Paris treaty, will still be on the table with all of its headaches. While the Environmental Defence Fund holds that a carbon market could reduce the cost of climate action by between 60 and 80 per cent, many countries still oppose it, from the United States (officially withdrawing from Paris in 2021) to Brazil (which would like offsetting investments by other countries in the Amazon to be double-counted as its own).
In the end, what matters is the greenhouse-gas accumulation in the atmosphere, which was expected to peak either this year or next, but it won’t. Carbon dioxide concentrations are now above 410 parts per million, a level deemed by scientists as dangerously close to the famed 450 threshold. The failed Madrid conference acknowledged that the present mitigation efforts will not hold ‘the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels’. Such a ‘significant gap’ remains to be addressed. In other words, the world’s assembly of nations appears unable to put science where its mouth is.
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