UN climate negotiations in Madrid remained bogged down on Monday in the fine print of the Paris treaty rulebook, out-of-sync with a world demanding action to forestall the ravages of global warming.
The 196-nation talks should kick into high-gear on Tuesday with the arrival of ministers, but on the most crucial issue of all – slashing the greenhouse gas emissions overheating the planet – major emitters have made it clear they have nothing to say.
Only the EU is dangling the prospect of enhanced carbon-cutting ambitions, to be laid out this week in its European Green New Deal.
The arrival on Tuesday of Michael Bloomberg, who has thrown his hat – and a tonne of money – into the US presidential contest, underscores how much easier the task might be with a Democrat rather than a climate denier in the White House.
“Despite Trump backing out of the Paris Agreement, climate progress is happening in the US thanks to bold action from cities, states, & businesses,” Bloomberg tweeted.
“Tomorrow [Tuesday], I’ll represent the US at #COP25 to deliver our America’s Pledge report showing how far we’ve come.”
Observers say the case for a global Marshall Plan on global warming has become overwhelming.
A quartet of recent UN science reports catalogued a crescendo of a deadly heatwave, flooding and superstorms made more destructive by rising seas and projected far worse impacts just over the horizon.
Every year that CO2 and methane emissions continue to rise – as they have for decades – compresses the task of drawing them down fast enough to avoid catastrophic warming into an impossibly narrow time frame.
A youth-led movement, meanwhile, led by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg – a magnet for climate hope and fear – has seen millions of protesters spill into the streets, with tens of thousands in Madrid on Friday.
Even forward-looking businesses and corporations are pushing for a rapid and well-ordered transition to a low-carbon world.
On Monday, 631 institutional investors managing $37 trillion – a third of the world’s monetary assets – called for a price on carbon and end to fossil fuel subsidies.
But governments are waiting until next year’s deadline to unveil revised emissions reduction commitments.
“Negotiations, by their nature, are ‘I’ll give you this if you give me that’,” said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based climate policy think tank.
“So we are standing and watching our house on fire. I’ve got a hose, you’ve got a hose, but I’m not going to turn mine on until you do.”
At the same time, the rising tide of urgency has permeated the “climate bubble” of diplomats, policy wonks, NGOs and business leaders that gather in a new city each year.
“Delegates are finally saying the ‘F’ words – ‘Fossil Fuels’,” said Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, an umbrella organisation of activists.
For 25 years, she noted, it has been more-or-less taboo to point an accusing finger within the UN negotiations directly at the cause of global warming – the burning of fossil fuels.
It is no coincidence that the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement – which calls for capping the rise in temperatures to “well below” two degrees Celsius – does not mention “fossil fuel”, “oil”, “coal” or “natural gas”.