Climate Summit Kicks Off, Caught Between Realism and Hope

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Climate Change

Family photo at the opening of the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) on climate change, taking place in Madrid Dec. 2 to 13. Credit: UNFCCC

Family photo at the opening of the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) on climate change, taking place in Madrid Dec. 2 to 13. Credit: UNFCCC

MADRID, Dec 2 2019 (IPS) – Tens of thousands of delegates from state parties began working Monday Dec. 2 in the Spanish capital to pave the way to comply with the Paris Agreement on climate change, while at a parallel summit, representatives of civil society demanded that the international community go further.

Calls to combat the climate emergency marked the opening of the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in light of the most recent scientific data showing the severity of the crisis, as reflected by more intense storms, rising temperatures and sea levels, and polar melting.

Pedro Sánchez, acting prime minister of Spain – selected as the emergency host country after the political crisis in Chile forced the relocation of the summit – called during the opening ceremony for Europe to lead the decarbonisation of the economy and move faster to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the greenhouse gas generated by human activities.

“Today, fortunately, only a handful of fanatics deny the evidence” about the climate emergency, Sánchez said at the opening of the COP, held under the motto “Time to act” at the Feria de Madrid Institute (IFEMA) fairgrounds.

COP25 is the third consecutive climate conference held in Europe. The agenda focuses on issues such as financing for national climate policies and the rules for emission reduction markets – outlined without specifics in the Paris Agreement, which was agreed four years ago and is to enter into force in 2020.

It will also address the preparation of the update of emissions reductions and funding of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, designed to assist regions particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

In the 1,000 square metres where COP25 is being held, 29,000 people – according to estimates by the organisers – including some 50 heads of state and government, representatives of the 196 official delegations and civil society organisations, as well as 1,500 accredited journalists, will gather until Dec. 13.

But the notable absence of U.S. President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson does not give cause for optimism.

These include the leaders of the countries that produce the most greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, making their lack of interest in strengthening the Paris Agreement more serious.

On Nov. 4, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he submitted a formal notice to the United Nations to begin the process of pulling out of the climate accord.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said during the opening ceremony that “The latest, just-released data from the World Meteorological Organisation show that levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached another new record high.

“Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned?”

In its Emissions Gap Report 2019, the U.N. Environment Programme warned on the eve of the opening of COP25 of the need to cut emissions by 7.6 percent a year between 2020 and 2030 in order to stay within the 1.5 degree Celsius cap on temperature rise proposed in the Paris Agreement.

Many delegations admitted that the world is off track to achieving the proposed 45 percent reduction in GHG by 2030 and to becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

In fact, delegates pointed out on Monday, emissions reached an alarming 55.3 billion tons in 2018, including deforestation.

One of the hopes is that more countries, cities, companies and investment funds will join the Climate Ambition Alliance, launched by Chile, the country that still holds the presidency of the COP, and endorsed by at least 66 nations, 10 regions, 102 cities, 93 corporations and 12 large private investors.

More than 70 countries and 100 cities so far have committed to reaching zero net emissions by 2050.

Social summit

Parallel to the official meeting, organisations from around the world are gathered at the Social Summit for Climate under the slogan “Beyond COP25: People for Climate”, which in its statement to the conference criticises the economic model based on the extraction of natural resources and mass consumption, blaming it for the climate crisis, and complaining about the lack of results in the UNFCCC meetings.

“The scientific diagnosis is clear regarding the seriousness and urgency of the moment. Economic growth happens at the expense of the most vulnerable people,” says the statement, which defends climate justice “as the backbone of the social fights of our time” and “the broadest umbrella that exists to protect all the diversity of struggles for another possible world.”

The first week of the COP is expected to see the arrival of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who has unleashed youth mobilisation against the climate crisis around the world.

In terms of how well countries are complying, only Gabon and Nepal have met their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the mitigation and adaptation measures voluntarily adopted, within the Paris Agreement, to keep the temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But these two countries have practically no responsibility for the climate emergency.

The plans of Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia and the Philippines involve an increase of up to 2.0 degrees, while the measures of the rest of the countries range from “insufficient” to “critically insufficient”.

Latin America “has to be more ambitious: although progress has been made, the measures are insufficient. We need a multilateral response to the emergency. We have only 11 years to correct the course and thus reach carbon neutrality in 2050 and meet the goal of keeping the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, global head of Climate and Energy at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The Marshall Islands already submitted their NDCs 2020, while 41 nations have declared their intention to update their voluntary measures and 68 nations – including those of the European Union – have stated that they plan to further cut emissions.

In its position regarding the COP25, consulted by IPS, Mexico outlined 10 priorities, including voluntary cooperation, adaptation, climate financing, gender and climate change, local communities and indigenous peoples.


Under Pressure. Can COP25 Deliver?

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Farhana Haque Rahman is Senior Vice President of IPS Inter Press Service; a journalist and communications expert, she is a former senior official of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, drive up environmental remediation costs. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

ROME, Dec 2 2019 (IPS) – Mass public pressure backed by the weight of scientific reports is starting to bring governments to their senses as the annual UN climate summit kicks off in Madrid today.

But despite warnings that the planet is reaching critical tipping points, the two weeks of talks with nearly 30,000 participants and dozens of heads of government attending may still end in that familiar sense of disappointment and an opportunity missed.

The annual Conference of the Parties, this year being COP25, was to have been a highly arcane if crucial process of finding agreement on carbon markets, known in the jargon as Article 6 of the ‘rulebook’ to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement on stopping the planet from overheating.

Highly contentious, and in part pitting developing countries like Brazil, China and India against others, the Article 6 debate could not be resolved at last year’s summit – COP24 in Katowice, Poland – nor at meetings in Bonn in June and hence was left for COP25 to try and fix. The other big elephant in the room – setting more ambitious national targets to reduce carbon emissions – was conveniently going to be left to be settled at next year’s COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.

But action is needed now, and senior officials representing nearly 200 countries have been put on notice that the climate emergency in all its forms is dominating the public sphere across the world. Just last week we saw student-led demonstrations and strikes in many places that appropriately fell on Black Friday, delivering a broadside against rampant consumerism as well as government inaction.

Farhana Haque Rahman

“Striking is not a choice we relish; we do it because we see no other options,” youth leaders Greta Thunberg of Sweden, Luisa Neubauer of Germany and Angela Valenzuela of Chile declared in a joint statement.

“We have watched a string of United Nations climate conferences unfold. Countless negotiations have produced much-hyped but ultimately empty commitments from the world’s governments—the same governments that allow fossil fuel companies to drill for ever-more oil and gas, and burn away our futures for their profit.”

UN Secretary General António Guterres has told COP25 that “the point of no return is no longer over the horizon”.

“In the crucial 12 months ahead, it is essential that we secure more ambitious national commitments – particularly from the main emitters – to immediately start reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a pace consistent to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions,” Guterres said.

Just last month the UN Environment Programme’s annual Emissions Gap Report warned that the Paris Agreement ambition of keeping average temperatures within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times was “on the brink of becoming impossible”.

Global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 would have to be under 25 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent to reach that target but, at current rates of growth, emissions are projected to reach more than double that level. Clearly drastic action is needed.

Reinforcing the sense of emergency, the World Meteorological Organization reported that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases reached new record highs in 2018. China is the world’s largest emitter.

Spain stepped in to offer Madrid as a venue for COP25 after Chile withdrew as host because of mass anti-government unrest. However Chile is still leading the conference and together with Spain will be pushing countries to act quickly to raise the ambition of their carbon emission reduction targets. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says the goal is for “the largest number of countries” to commit to net zero emissions by 2050.

From 2020 to 2030, emissions must be cut 7.6% a year to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, the UNEP says.

However the main negotiation process in Madrid is expected to focus on the unfinished business of the market-based mechanisms to create and manage new carbon markets under the Paris Agreement. This would allow countries and industries to earn credits for above-target emission reductions that can then be traded. Big developing countries have already accumulated huge amounts of carbon credits under the previous but now largely discredited carbon credit scheme. It is a highly complex tangle of interests.

Carbon Brief, a UK-based climate website, says the Article 6 debate has the potential to “make or break” implementation of the Paris Agreement which comes into force next year.

“To its proponents, Article 6 offers a path to significantly raising climate ambition or lowering costs, while engaging the private sector and spreading finance, technology and expertise into new areas. To its critics, it risks fatally undermining the ambition of the Paris Agreement at a time when there is clear evidence of the need to go further and faster to avoid the worst effects of climate change,” Carbon Brief explains.

While Article 6 is a highly technical area, the underlying issues are political, with some countries forming unofficial alliances to defend their own interests rather than the common good of the planet. But politicians have been put on notice that this time the world’s public is watching closely. Horse-trading cannot be allowed to put our futures at risk.


Africa’s Civil Society Calls for Action as COP25 Kicks off in Madrid

Africa, Aid, Civil Society, Climate Change, Conferences, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Energy, Environment, Featured, Global Governance, Green Economy, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Climate Change

In Africa, climate change has caused drought, change in distribution of rainfall, the drying-up of rivers. Intense flooding causes landslides and in Kenya, residents of West Pokot County are currently grappling with with the deaths of 50 people who were last week buried alive by landslides following heavy rainfall that continues to pound the East African region. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

MADRID, Dec 2 2019 (IPS) – During the 25th round of climate change negotiations starting today in Madrid, Spain, African civil society organisations will call on governments from both developing and developed nations to play their promised roles in combating climate change.

“We’re fatigued by COP [Conference of Parties] jamborees which have become a ritual every year,” said Dr Mithika Mwenda of the Pan Africa Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) – an umbrella organisation that brings together over 1,000 African climate and environment civil society organisations.

“We know the science is clear about the level [in which] we need to act, yet we procrastinate and prevaricate while maintaining our profligate lifestyles,” he told IPS in an interview.

The 25th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP 25) comes a week after the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report warning that unless global greenhouse gas emissions fall by 7.6 percent each year between 2020 and 2030, the world will miss the opportunity to get on track towards the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement is an agreement reached at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris, France, where the world’s nations undertook a determined course to reduce climate change. Among the commitments was to reduce the increase in global temperatures.

The annual Emissions Gap Report, which was released on Nov. 26 warns that even if all current unconditional commitments under the Paris Agreement are implemented, temperatures are expected to rise by 3.2°C, bringing even wider-ranging and more destructive climate impacts.

“Any slight change in global temperatures can have a devastating effect on millions of livelihoods, and could expose people to life-threatening heat waves, water shortages and coastal flooding,” said Dr Mohammed Said, a climate change research scientist based in Kenya.

According to his research in Kenya’s Arid and Semi Arid regions, people in counties that experienced increased temperatures in the past 50 years have suffered significant loss of livelihoods with some having to change their lifestyles altogether.

“In Turkana County for example, the temperatures increased by 1.8°C, and as a result, the cattle population declined by 60 percent, and now residents have been forced to turn to more resilient camels, goats and sheep,” he told IPS.

It is the same situation all over the world. A study published in Nature Climate Change points out that if global warming causes a rise of 1.5°C or 2°C, then there will be extremely hot summers across Australia, more frequent drought conditions and more frequent heat leading to bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef.

Another study by the United Kingdom’s Met Office reveals that the changing climate will make heat waves a common phenomena worldwide and even intense in the U.K..

In Africa, climate change has caused flooding, drought, change in the distribution of rainfall, and the drying up of rivers. It has affected agriculture, food security and human health. And it has also led to conflicts over resources, impacting national security in various countries.

In Kenya, residents of West Pokot County are currently grappling with the deaths of 50 people who were last week buried alive by landslides following heavy rainfall that continues to pound the East African region.

According to the Kenya Meteorological Department, the above-normal rainfall has been caused by sea surface temperature anomalies in the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans caused by global warming. Floods in the region, which have already displaced hundreds of households and have swept away bridges, roads and property, are expected to continue for the next three weeks, according to the meteorological focus.

However, Mwenda believes that all is not lost. He notes that though the Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) are inadequate to lead to emission levels required by science and justice, there is still hope that momentum building on their implementation won’t be compromised.

“We will not be tired of telling our leaders that the future generations will judge them harshly as they have failed to rise to the occasion even when science is very clear that we have exceeded planetary boundaries,” he said.

In order to address climate change adequately, civil society is also calling for a dedicated financial mechanism to be established in Madrid to support Loss and Damage with a clear agreement on new sources of finance.

During the 19th round of negotiations in Poland, the COP established the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (Loss and Damage Mechanism), to address loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change, including extreme events and slow onset events, in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

“As we head to Madrid, we expect that all countries will endeavour to deliver on ambitious commitments in climate finance, especially in regard to loss and damage, strong national targets, and clear rules on trading emissions between countries,” said Robert Bakiika, the Executive Director of EMLI Bwaise Facility, a Ugandan NGO and one of the admitted observer organisations at the UNFCCC.