MADRID (AFP) — United Nations climate negotiations in Madrid were wrapping up Friday with even the best-case outcome likely to fall well short of what science says is needed to rescue a planet ravaged by global warming.
The COP25 summit comes on the heels of climate-related disasters across the planet, including unprecedented cyclones, deadly droughts and record-setting heat waves.
Scientists have amassed a mountain of evidence pointing to even more dire impacts on the near horizon, while millions of youth activists are holding weekly strikes demanding government action.
As pressure inside and outside the talks mounts, old splits dividing rich polluters and developing nations — over who should slash greenhouse gas emissions by how much, and how to pay the trillions needed to live in a heating world — have re-emerged.
Newer fissures between poor, climate-vulnerable nations and emerging giants such as China and India — the world’s No.1 and No.4 emitters of greenhouse gases — further stymie progress.
The 12-day meeting was moved at the last minute from original host Chile due to social unrest.
But observers and delegates said negotiators have failed to live up to the conference’s motto: Time for Action.
Not even appearances from wunderkind campaigner Greta Thunberg — named Time Person of the Year Wednesday, much to the chagrin of Donald Trump — could spur countries to boost carbon-cutting pledges that are, taken together, woefully inadequate.
“We are appalled at the state of negotiations,” said Carlos Fuller, lead negotiator for the Association of Small Island States, many of whose members face an existential threat due to rising sea levels.
“At this stage we are being cornered. We fear having to concede on too many issues that would damage the very integrity of the Paris Agreement.”
The narrow aim of the Madrid negotiations was to finalize the rulebook for the 2015 climate accord, which enjoins nations to limit global temperature rises to “well below” 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Earth has already warmed by 1C, and is on track to heat up another two or three degrees Celsius by 2100.
But “raising ambition” on emissions remains the overarching goal in Madrid.
Host nation Spain said Thursday that rich and developing nations were stalling.
“There are two very clear visions,” Spain’s minister for energy and climate change Teresa Ribera told reporters.
“There are those that want to move quicker and those that want to hide behind things which aren’t working, so as not to advance.”
The deadline under the Paris treaty for revisiting carbon-cutting commitments — known as NDCs, or nationally determined contributions — is 2020, before the next climate summit in Glasgow.
But Madrid was seen as a crucial launch pad where countries could show their good intentions. Nearly 80 countries have said they intend to do more, but they only represent 10% of global emissions.
Conspicuously absent are China, India and Brazil, all of whom have indicated they will not follow suit, insisting that first-world emitters step up. And the United States, the world’s second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, is far from willing to do more, with the Trump administration refusing to acknowledge that climate change is an issue at all.
Some countries historically aligned with the emerging giants over the course of the 25-year talks broke rank Thursday.
“The failure of major emitters — including Australia, the United States, Canada, Russia, India, China, Brazil — to commit to submitting revised NDCs suitable for achieving a 1.5C world shows a lack of ambition that also undermines ours,” AOSIS said in a statement.
The talks received a meager shot in the arm Friday when the EU pledged to make the bloc carbon-neutral by 2050.
The much-heralded decision was immediately undermined, however, by the refusal of Poland — a major emitter — to sign on.
The UN said this month that in order for the world to limit warming to 1.5C, emissions would need to drop by more than 7% a year until 2030, requiring nothing less than a restructuring of the global economy.
In fact, emissions are rising year-on-year, and have grown by 4% since the Paris deal was signed.
“It’s basically like what’s happening in the real world and in the streets, the protesters, doesn’t exist,” Alden Meyer from the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Agence France-Presse. “We are in a fantasy land here.”
Without strong commitments from big emitters to up their own contributions to the climate fight, Meyer said the talks will have failed to fulfill their purpose.
“Countries need to be on a track to be 1.5C compatible, that’s the bottom line.”
© Agence France-Presse