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COP25- UN Climate Talks End in Disappointment

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The UN talks that many had hoped would result in commitments to tackle climate change has ended in bickering and disappointment with very little being achieved.

The talks which had been set to take place in Chile, but were then switched to Madrid in the face of civil unrest in the South American nation were expected to see the world’s governments commit to measures and targets needed to reduce global warming.

With 26,706 participants travelling to Spain for COP25 hopes were high that some progress would be made.

Instead, the two weeks of talks ended with a formal recognition that more cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are needed and little more. Few nations committed to new targets, resulting in climate scientists warning that the targets currently in place would put the world on track for a 3C rise in temperatures, an increase that they say will result in coastal cities being ravaged by rising seas and agriculture around the globe being negatively impacted. 

Largest Polluters resisting changes

The world’s biggest polluters, China, the USA, Brazil, India and others were accused of holding up progress as they squabbled and argued. Even in the face of increasing pressure from activists such as groups such as Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg, little was agreed upon.

 “The world is screaming out for action, but this summit responded with a whisper. The poorest nations are in a sprint for survival, yet many governments have barely moved from the starting blocks. Instead of committing to more ambitious cuts in emissions, countries have argued over technicalities,” said interim executive director of Oxfam International Chema Vera.

Throughout the conference, governments were warned that the targets set out in 2015’s Paris agreement were far from being met. Representatives from small island states most at risk from rising sea levels, floods, droughts and wildfires delivered impassioned pleas that seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

A Hostage Situation?

 “As time ran out, the COP looked more and more like a hostage situation inside a burning building – together with most negotiators, people and planet were held captive. After forcing negotiators to keep at it for three days straight the world’s biggest carbon emitters and fossil fuel industry got what they wanted – a weakened text that kicks most of the big issues down the road to COP26,” said May Boeve, Executive Director of climate campaign group 350.org.

Data published during the UN conference did little to convince the government’s sticking to their guns even as it showed that global emissions have risen 4% since 2015 and that the world will have to cut carbon by more than 7% a year over the next decade if temperature targets are to be met.

Early hopes that increasing pressure for action would result in a spirit of cooperation were dashed as nations bickered over even relatively minor issues such as the role of carbon markets. Other areas of contention included the financial assistance given to poorer nations to help them cope with the impacts of a changing climate and as a result, attempts to resolve the issue were postponed until next year.

EU’s Man on the Moon Moment?

One bright point of the talks was the announcement from the European Union that it had come up with a new plan to agree on a bloc-wide target of cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, a target already set by the soon to be departing UK.

The deal was hailed in the press with EU President Ursula von der Leyen referring to it as “Europe’s man on the moon moment.”

The EU deal did see some pushback, however, as Poland said that it would “reach its own carbon targets at its own pace” due to most of its power generation relying on coal power. Hungary and the Czech Republic had also initially opposed it, but dropped their resistance after getting a guarantee that nuclear energy would be recognised as a way for states to cut greenhouse emissions.

Climate campaign groups were left unimpressed with the announcement with one saying ‘The European Green Deal is far from good enough’

COP25 a disappointment

Highlighting just how much of a missed opportunity COP25 was the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres couldn’t hide his disappointment saying, “I am disappointed with the results of COP25. The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis."

UK Government has a solid mandate for 2050 carbon target

Following last week’s big victory in the polls for the Conservatives all eyes will now be on Boris Johnson’s party to see whether their plans to cut the nations carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 will be achieved.

The Tory victory now gives the government a solid mandate to put into place its plans to tackle climate issues.

“This victory has smashed the roadblock in Parliament over Brexit and put an end to the miserable threats of another referendum on Europe. This government will put colossal new investments in infrastructure, in science, using our incredible technological advantages to make this country the cleanest, greenest on Earth, with the most far-reaching environmental programme. You the people of this country voted to be carbon neutral in this election. You voted to be carbon neutral by 2050 and we’ll do it,” said the Prime Minister.

The government has said that it will keep the existing energy price cap in place and will invest up to £6.3 billion to improve the energy efficiency of 2.2 million homes. As well as that, two new schemes will be launched. £3.8 billion has been set aside for a Social Housing Decarbonisation scheme, forecast to reduce energy bills by £160 on average per year. £2.5 billion will be used for a Homes Upgrades Grants scheme that will see 200,000 homes being upgraded. This will see boilers replaced, insulation improved and if needed entire energy systems replaced.

Separately the government will launch a £1 billion Ayrton Fund that will be used to develop affordable and clean energy designed to tackle climate change.

Only time will tell whether the government will stick to its manifesto pledges to create two million new jobs in the energy sector, invest £500 million to assist energy intensive sectors to move to low carbon techniques and invest £800 million to build the first carbon capture storage (CCS) cluster by the middle of the decade.

Pressure now on the UK

The UK will also be hosting COP 26 in Glasgow in 2020 and the pressure is on to see whether the country can step up lead the way and convince others to raise their game.

“The UK now has a gargantuan task of overseeing a successful climate summit in Glasgow next year. That meeting is supposed to be the moment the world responds to the climate crisis by strengthening the pledges made in the Paris agreement. To avoid failure, the UK will need to put its own house in order, in creating and implementing policies to rapidly reduce its own emissions,” said Katherine Kramer, the global climate lead at Christian Aid.

There are some positive signs out there despite the disappointment of the UN talks. Just recently in the UK wind power broke new records for energy produced and new technologies designed to combat climate change and reduce pollution are being worked on and created at an ever-increasing rate.

Whether those new technologies will be enough to make up for the apparent lack of will from some government’s remains to be seen.

Matthew Olney's picture

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 17, 2019 12:58 pm GMT

Instead, the two weeks of talks ended with a formal recognition that more cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are needed and little more. Few nations committed to new targets, resulting in climate scientists warning that the targets currently in place would put the world on track for a 3C rise in temperatures, an increase that they say will result in coastal cities being ravaged by rising seas and agriculture around the globe being negatively impacted. 

Really disappointing. I wonder how many more times we're going to bring together world leaders and delegations to agree about the fact that there's a problem without actually creating the change needed to solve it

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 17, 2019 6:27 pm GMT

Disappointing but expected, Matt. Since Kyoto there's no evidence climate conferences have been effective at reducing global carbon emissions, or ever will be. Before COP26 next year, someone at the U.N. might calculate the carbon footprint of flying 14,000+ participants to Glasgow. Then, make an informed decision whether calling the whole thing off wouldn't be the most environmentally-responsible option.

The United States, #1 emitter of total greenhouse gases throughout history, needs to lead the way if we're to have any hope. The next 30 years may be the most consequential in Earth's history - they will tell us whether humanity is too stupid/greedy to save itself, or will set the evolutionary clock back 30 million years. The concept of "net zero" carbon emissions suggests we might be too stupid.

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