Little Progress Made at UN Climate Talks in Madrid

COP25 members talk ahead of the closing session in Madrid on Sunday. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

(CN) – Despite growing demands for drastic action on climate change, the latest round of international talks over stopping global warming ended Sunday in Madrid with little progress and many calling it a complete failure.

Activists with Extinction Rebellion, a movement that aims to force governments to take action on climate change, seemed to sum up the feelings of many when they dumped a large pile of horse manure in front of the venue where delegates from almost 200 countries were meeting. A note on the pile of manure read: “The horseshit stops here.”

With opposition coming from the United States, Brazil, Australia, China and Saudi Arabia, this latest United Nations climate conference was viewed as a major letdown after delegates failed to agree on the terms of establishing global carbon markets and did not set new commitments on lowering carbon emissions.

The 2015 Paris Agreement laid out a goal of setting up a global system – a so-called carbon credit market – where countries seeking to reduce their carbon emissions can claim reductions by investing in mitigation projects. This is mostly meant to encourage industrialized countries that cause a lot of pollution to fund projects in less developed countries to combat global warming.

In a small victory for the summit’s organizers, delegates agreed in principle to help poor countries cope with the effects of climate change, but they did not attach any new funds to accomplish that. Under the Paris Agreement, delegates agreed to invest $100 billion a year by 2020 to fight climate change.

The latest summit seemed doomed even before it started. It was originally set to take place in Brazil before it was moved to Chile and then to Spain.

It was moved to Chile after Jair Bolsonaro, a Brazilian far-right politician and climate skeptic, won his country’s presidential election in 2018. Then in November 2018, Brazil’s foreign office cited budgetary problems for rescinding an offer to host the summit. But the ascendancy of Bolsonaro was viewed as the main reason for Brazil’s reversal.

During the presidential campaign, Bolsonaro threatened to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and he has expressed doubts about the science of climate change. He shocked many environmentalists when he appointed as his foreign minister a person who claimed climate change was a left-wing plot to undermine capitalist democracies to the benefit of China.

At the summit in Madrid, Brazil – once a leader in climate talks and an important mediator between rich and poor countries on climate policy – also played the role of spoiler.

“Bolsonaro has drawn a dark cloud over this conference,” Martin Kaiser, the head of Greenpeace in Germany, told the Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “Ultimately, Brazil is trying to destroy the integrity of the Paris Agreement.”

After Brazil turned its back on hosting the summit, it was then supposed to take place in Chile. But anti-government protests in Chile – sparked by rising prices for the metro in Santiago, the capital, and inequality – turned into a weeks-long confrontation between police and protesters. The protests and violence forced Chile to cancel the summit in November. The conference was then moved to Madrid.

The talks went on for two weeks in Madrid and delegates were urged to be ambitious and meet growing demands to curb emissions and tackle the climate crisis in a serious way. Instead, there was discord and little progress. Delegates chose to postpone a decision on a global carbon market until next November when the next climate conference is scheduled to be held in Glasgow, Scotland.

“The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis,” said Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, in a statement. “But we must not give up, and I will not give up.”

In a statement, Extinction Rebellion compared the inaction at the Madrid conference – also known by the abbreviation COP25, or the 25th Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention on Climate Change – to the sinking of the Titanic.

“Just like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic, this COP’s fiddling of carbon accounting and negotiating of Article 6 [of the Paris Agreement] is not commensurate to the planetary emergency we face,” the group said in a statement.

The Paris Agreement established a goal of preventing an increase in temperature of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. Scientists say the world is on track to warm by 3 to 4 degrees Celsius and that such warming may be catastrophic due to sea level rise, drought, animal extinction and severe weather.

“These talks reflect how disconnected country leaders are from the urgency of the science and the demands of their citizens in the streets,” Helen Mountford, the vice president for climate and economics at the think tank World Resources Institute, told reporters. “They need to wake up in 2020.”

(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)

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