The 2019 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP25, kicked off on Monday in Madrid, thanks to the magic trick performed by the Spanish government which managed to organise it in 18 days (instead of the usual 18 months) after Chile had thrown in the towel because of social unrest at home. But COP25, as the summit is colloquially known, has already shown that a collective will is missing.
UN secretary-general, António Guterres, kicked things off by saying that the planet is close to ‘the point of no return’ and that crucial decisions are to be taken ‘now.’ The new European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, in Madrid as her first official act, promised to present the EU Green Deal in ten days. ‘Our goal is to be the first climate-neutral continent by 2050,’ she said, while US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remarked: ‘We all believe that we have a moral responsibility to future generations.’
The United Nations has been promoting these conferences since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio exposed the existential danger of rising greenhouse gas emissions, confirmed every five years by reports from the IPCC, a UN-backed assembly of world climatologists. Those reports are why Guterres can authoritatively admonish the world leaders about a possible point of no return, even if the warnings are only being heard by some of them.
Europe has always been the frontrunner in the fight against climate change, so it’s no surprise that von der Leyen is leading the way once again. The Paris Agreement is due to enter into force in a few weeks’ time. To be a success, COP25 will need to see a wave of countries raising the ambition of their (voluntary) emission cuts. Unfortunately, only Europe and a group of small countries are expected to do that.
Then we have Pelosi, who rightfully reminds us of the responsibility politicians have to future generations, yet was speaking without any support from her own government. The Trump administration has walked out of the Paris Agreement and, worse, has promoted and facilitated fossil fuel exploration and production. In a word, Donald Trump (who, as we write, hasn’t yet tweeted against Pelosi for showing up in Madrid) has undermined the very foundation of the UN Climate Change Conferences: international cooperation. Guterres, von der Leyen and Pelosi are among of just a handful of world leaders currently in Madrid. That said, world leaders rarely attend the first week of negotiations – another sign of the fracture dividing the international community.
Apart from the unlikely raise in NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions, in the climatic diplomacy’s parlance), the ongoing summit is expected to find a way to establish a worldwide carbon market – today only Europe has one in place. The Paris Agreement says that there should be a ‘mechanism’ for countries to trade greenhouse gas emission credits among them as a first step towards build a serious carbon market with a much-needed global carbon price. Were the Madrid summit capable of accomplishing this task, it would be considered a success. However, as the ‘collective spirit’ is missing, it’s going to be an uphill walk.
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