COP25 – Failure in Madrid

Four years after world leaders came together on the Paris Climate Agreement – and an increase of 4 percent in global carbon emissions later –, the COP25 in Madrid failed to reach what it was set out to do: reach an agreement on international carbon markets, a mechanism intended to make it easier for many countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The COP25 shows yet again how divided the world remains on climate change. Meanwhile global temperatures keep rising, the scientific prognosis is as unequivocal as ever, and a growing number of people are urging their governments to act. Rebecca Bertram reports

COP25 in Madrid failed to set an agreement on international carbon market (Public Domain)

Although the COP25 was never expected to produce overwhelming solutions, the outcome of the talks is deeply disappointing. It now seems utopian to think that the signatory parties will be increasing their voluntary national climate goals at next year’s COP26 in Glasgow.

Yet governments need to be much more ambitious to avert the dangers of climate change. Current national climate pledges are barely enough to halt global temperature rise to 3 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. To limit global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius, as postulated by the Paris Accords, would require a decrease of global CO2 emissions by 45 percent between now and 2030, the only realistic basis for reaching ca

rbon neutrality by 2050. We are light years away from getting there.
In particular, the Madrid talks failed to define ways of how international cooperation can lead to emissions reductions. Governments quarreled over carbon markets and trading procedures that would help developing countries reach their climate goals. Carbon markets are designed to channel financial investment from developed countries that seek to offset their own emissions to developing countries.

Another point of disagreement evolved around the question whether remaining climate certificates from the Kyoto protocol – worth approximately 4 billion tons of CO2 – could still be traded under the Paris agreement. It was agreed to designate funds for the most vulnerable countries to compensate them for the affects of climate change, although it was left undecided from where this money would come. Yet some countries, among them the United States, no longer accept that developing countries, given the negative climate impact on their economies, should be automatically entitled to financial aid.

The disagreements were in large part caused by a very small but powerful group of countries – foremost Brazil, Saudi Arabia, China, Australia, Russia and the United States. Brazil, for example, whose President Bolsonaro has been a fierce critic of international climate negotiations, played a particularly destructive role by insisting that developed countries should finance Brazil carbon sinks, like the Amazon forest region, but that this should be allocated to its national carbon reduction accounting, resulting in essence in counting the same climate efforts twice. Saudi Arabia only cared for protecting its oil industries. And the United States, although set to leave the Paris Climate Agreement by November next year tried to obstruct the negotiations wherever possible.

Clearly, governments all over the world still do not regard climate change as their priority. Too many remain stuck in old thinking, protecting money and jobs in old and dirty industries while jeopardizing the future for billion of people. Nor were they swayed by the massive demonstrations from the public preceding and accompanying COP25. Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement pooled young climate activists from more than 160 countries into a global movement. In many parts of the world, their action resulted in a significantly greater climate media coverage. Many therefore hoped that all this public pressure could change the position of countries at the Madrid negotiations.

Now the failure of COP25 comes as a slap in the face of the world’s young generations. The outcome of the Madrid climate summit demonstrates once more that under current political circumstances the battle against climate change will not be won.



Rebecca Bertram works as a freelancer and consultant on energy and climate issues in Guatemala. She used to work for the Heinrich Böll Foundation both as the Director for the Energy and Environment program in the Washington D.C. office and as the Senior Policy Advisor for European Energy Policy at the Foundation's Headquarters in Berlin. Before that, she worked on international energy issues both for the German Ministry of Environment and the German Foreign Ministry. She holds a Master's degree in International Affairs and Economics from the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

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