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COP25 failed on climate ambition

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Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg gives a speech during a high-level event on climate emergency hosted by the Chilean presidency during the UN Climate Change Conference COP25 in Madrid last week. CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP

COP25 failed on climate ambition

The 25th Conference of Parties (COP25) ended on Sunday, more than 40 hours after it was originally intended to, without much to show in terms of climate progress.

Almost 27,000 delegates from over 190 nations had convened in Madrid this month to finalise the Paris Rulebook – the manual that was supposed to guide the world on how to implement the objectives of the Paris Agreement when it comes into effect in 2020.

Additionally, while there was no formal agenda to increase ambition, it was expected that nations would signal their intent to upgrade their 2020 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) ambitions. COP25, however, failed to deliver on both fronts.

Dubbed as a “disappointment” by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and an “opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes” by climate activist Greta Thunberg, COP25 was unable to give much momentum to the Paris Agreement.

Outcomes on key issues

Key issues that COP25 was expected to deliver on included:

Mitigation: The UN’s 2019 Emission Gap Report launched around a week before the COP25 negotiations states that given the current greenhouse emissions trend, we are on track for 3C warming that would have devastating impacts on the fragile mountains, coastal ecosystems, communities and net global agricultural productivity.

Even if the climate ambitions outlined in the current NDCs were to be met, according to the report, 2030 emissions will still be 38 percent higher than what is required to maintain temperature increase to 1.5C – the threshold, identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), required to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.

Findings released from a global carbon budget study showed that emissions that need to go down by at least seven per cent annually for the next decade (to meet the 1.5C goal) have actually risen up by four per cent since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.

However, despite such alarming findings, World Resources Institute’s 2020 NDC Tracker shows that only 80 countries (including Nepal) have stated their intentions to upgrade the ambitions on their 2020 NDCs.

Most of these countries are developing or small countries that are only responsible for 10.5 percent of the global emissions.

Major polluters did not make any pledges about ratcheting mitigation ambitions during the negotiations. COP25 did, however, conclude with a formal recognition to bridge the emissions gap through ambitious NDCs next year.

Carbon Markets and Transparency: One of the mandates of this COP was to address and finalise outstanding implementation guidelines issues in the Paris Rulebook (most of which was completed in COP24).

Guidelines for carbon markets and transparency were key issues of negotiations on this front.

Delegates were supposed to negotiate how carbon markets – that enable nations to buy and sell carbon credits internationally – were to be tracked, run and regulated.

How to monitor, report and verify the implementation of NDCs was another key issue that required deliberation this year. However, despite the Paris Agreement coming into effect in 2020, delegates were unable to reach a consensus and these decisions have been pushed to next year.

Loss and Damage: Many countries and communities live in climate-sensitive ecosystems, and are continually impacted by the fast onset disaster events (like floods and landslides) or slow-onset events (like glacier melt and sea-level rise).

No degree of adaptation will help avoid some forms of losses and damages to lives, livelihoods, property and culture brought on by these events. However, despite this, no dedicated financing mechanism has been allocated to address these impacts of climate change.

The Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), which was established in 2013 to address such loss and damage, has mostly been used to understand the science behind these issues but has done little in the way of providing financial, technology and capacity-building support.

This year, at COP, the mandate of the WIM was set to be reviewed. And while an agreement was made to create an expert panel to “support” loss and damage and what is being called a “Santiago network” to facilitate technical support, no concrete agreement was made regarding new and additional sources of funding, despite repeated emphasis from the Small Islands Developing States (Sids) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

There were also talks of redirecting such requests of loss and damage financing towards the Global Climate Fund (GCF), which does not only not have enough funds to cover its original purpose of providing mitigation and adaptation support but also has a lengthy procurement process which will make it useless during disasters.

Finance: In addition to providing finance for loss and damage, climate finance needs to support low-carbon climate-resilient development and climate adaptation activities in low-income countries, according to the “common but differentiated responsibility” principle of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

However, most of these financing needs are currently met through voluntary donor assistance which are neither reliable, nor enough.

The goal to mobilise $100 billion by 2020 to meet climate financing needs of developing countries is also nowhere close to being met, with pledges still left hanging at the $10 billion mark.

So what happened?

Nations, this time around, failed to show the diplomacy and solidarity displayed during the 2015 Paris negotiations. Despite calls for immediate and coordinated global action, this year’s COP was fraught with contention because of polluting nations like Brazil, China, India, Australia and the US, who used technicalities to hold up progress on many issues.

Manjeet Dhakal, the head of the LDC Support Team at Climate Analytics and an advisor to the LDC chair, says that COP25 had some useful outcomes as it concluded with a formal call for more ambitious 2020 NDCs that close the emissions gap and because of the progress made on the loss and damage front (which could be strengthened during future negotiations).

However, he says: “Many other aspects of the negotiations failed to materialise because of obstruction caused by some polluting nations who put individual greed before the collective good.”



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