The COP 25 in Madrid finally concluded on Sunday, two days past its scheduled end, but failed to deliver any enhanced ambition or hope on climate action despite mounting pressure on governments to act | Photo: IISD Reporting Services

The COP of bracketed failures

Two weeks of negotiations at the COP25 UN climate summit finally wrapped up in Madrid on Sunday with governments failing dismally to respond to the unfolding global climate crisis.

Despite clear warnings from scientists through 2019, record levels of protests and severe climate impacts, the talks fell victim to major differences between countries which are proving hard to resolve. This year’s COP had the unenviable distinction of being the longest ever after disagreements between countries pushed proceedings well into the second day beyond schedule, yet still without agreements on key issues.

The end was chaotic, extending well into Sunday morning as sleep deprived and tired delegates punted key issues unresovled over the last two week to the next year, and ended the climate talks demonstrating lack of leadership or good intention for climate action.What does this COP go down as? For now, possibly among the UNFCCC COPs which have ended with the most delay! Genuine differences between governments emerged clearly and proved hard to resolve to even come to terms with germane issues parties had previosuly agreed- for example action in the Kyoto phase before Paris Agreement comes into force, the question of how to deal with carbon credits to offset emissions, and the very crucial yet contested subject of providing support for loss and damage to the vulenrable and poor nations.

Huddled in disagreement: Divergent views on key issues persisted despite innumerable rounds of informal consultations between parties that went well into Sunday | Photo: IISD Reporting Services

Progress (or lack thereof) in Madrid
Over two weeks since 2nd December, the “COP of Action” saw little progress on the completion of the Paris Agreement rule book which had a few prominent agenda items left in the run up to the scheduled operationalisation of the Paris agreement in 2020. Despite several rounds of talks, consensus on key issues remains distant while new divisions within negotiating parties seem to have emerged and existing rifts show no signs of closing up.

A presidency unprepared to deal with the differences
From the time when it was announced that COP25 would take place in Chile, the question posed some concerns. As time passed, and the chatters settled down, it was clear that Santiago would host COP25 regardless, not until the country got mired in social unrest over increased public transport prices,which morphed itself into a national level crisis speaking about societal inequality and simmering disparity among the Chilean society. This led to the COP25 being shifted to Spain. Yet what has been clearly evident over the last two weeks is the inabilities of countries to take leadership but also the tough spot for the presidency to organise decisive negotiations which could advance any outcome.

Falling back on ambition and action – present in words, missing in text
Ambition and action were the two words that were the spirit of COP25.However, even till the last draft text, the language around ambition was subpar. From the 197 parties to the Paris Agreement, only about 73 countries committed to enhancing their NDCs before Glasgow’s COP26. Of the 73 countries, 71 countries were developing countries from LDC, AOSIS, and other countries. While several rich countries as well as big polluters did not commit to enhancing their NDCs. India, which on the onset, had stated that it will only update its NDCs in 2023, continued to stick to its stance throughout.Such political lockjam reflects poorly on the health of the Paris Agreement and moves any hopes of resurrection now on the next COP , next year in the UK.Observers in Madrid blamed G20 countries for the poor outcome, with the US, Brazil, Australia, Saudi Arabia and major oil, gas and coal companies implicated in undermining climate ambition.

Leading economies were faulted for their complacency – failing to deliver more support to vulnerable nations in the face of brutal impacts and push for a tougher collective response in 2020 – when new climate plans are mandated under the Paris Agreement. The EU tried to play its role as bridge-builder between developing and developed countries. However, it will take a major diplomatic push and bigger leadership alliance to deliver substantial outcomes at COP26 in Glasgow.Specifically, the COP decision text takes a hard look at the gap between countries’ mitigation efforts and what is required in terms of cutting down greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. It however falls short of mandating any kind of increase in ambitions expressed by parties and instead sticks to simply stressing the urgency of enhancing ambitions. Such weak language makes little contribution to encouraging countries to ratchet ambition. 

Carbon markets
Negotiators failed to reach an outcome on carbon markets under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. The entire text has been bracketed which means any consequential decision on the fate of existing carbon credits from the Kyoto Protocol period and how carbon credits in any new regime would be accounted for in countries’ NDCs has been punted forward to the next year.Despite near-incessant negotiations on the matter, parties failed to achieve consensus on the way forward regarding carbon markets, especially on the coherence between two specific clauses of the article regarding bilateral trading between countries and trading through multilateral platforms as prescribed under paragraphs 2 and 4 of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement respectively.In the final hours of negotiations, over 30 governments joined behind the San Jose Principles in an effort to preserve the integrity of carbon market rules and prevent loopholes and the ability for double-counting carbon credits.

Loss & Damage
The biggest positive from negotiations on Loss and Damage under the Warsaw International Mechanism was the mandate to establish the ‘Santiago network’ to provide technical support to developing and vulnerable parties in dealing with climate impact. Another welcome step was the establishment of expert groups to assess slow onset events and non-economic losses from climate change impacts- a longstanding demand that was finally addressed after years of being punted forward. However, the final text is weaker than the previous version.In terms of finance, the final decision text “urges” developed countries and other parties in a position to scale up finance towards “averting, minimising and addressing” loss and damage. Much to the ire of civil society observers and least developed nations, the demand for a separate funding channel for loss and damage finance was left unmet.

The decision rather invites the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Board to continue providing resources for loss and damage and other expenses incurred via the WIM.While a decision on the governance of the Warsaw International Mechanism was also due during the COP25, no decision was reached in this regard with major disagreements emerging between developed and developing nations. The matter is now up for deliberation again next year.The decision is still being held hostage to the insistence of the US to allow its participation in the governing council of the WIM despite their imminent withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and to include a clause on the waiver of liabilities in any mention of loss and damage.

Profit before people
Rich countries and big polluters seemed motivated to protect the interest of businesses rather than the people. People across the world demanded for governments to take the climate crisis seriously. Just a week before, over 15,000 people marched on the streets of Madrid demanding negotiators to act. However, none of this translated into ambition and action at this COP.Japan, though in the second week and after much pressure, admitted to its “complex feelings” on overcoming its coal addiction, yet did not absolutely commit to enhancing its NDCs next year. South Africa, though on record committed to enhancing its NDCs in the high level segment, did not explicitly add its name in the Presidency’s list of countries that committed to enhancing NDCs before 2020 COP in Glasgow.

What were the big emitters up to?
With the shameful situation of US not in the Paris agreement, the politics of climate change become unhelpful in the first step. Hopes were high on European Union to declare a strong plan to reduce emissions – which came as 2050 carbon neutral plan or the EU Green new deal, which was released even as Poland and the Czech republic not fully on board. If the European Union thinks it can take the lead and demonstrate willingness to act on climate change, it must also show ambition both in the short and the long term, to make the right ask to other large emitters like China.Meanwhile along with Brazil, Australia, who’s ambition is anyway inadeqauet, also asked for the carry over of Kyoto credits to the Paris regime- all in all such credits are equal to running 700 coal power plants for 10 years. Talk about closing the emissions gap? Could be another galaxy away if climate action only has to met with accounting tricks!India stuck to its line of being  on track to achive the NDCs and that it will deliver on the promise it made 5 years ago. Putting the pressure back on the developed countries, the fourth largest emitter said that the developed countries have not delivered on their pre2020 promises , which were made under Kyoto protocol. 

The world reacts
The outcome did not meet the demands of millions that have rallied around the world this year against climate impacts, economic injustice, human rights abuses and inequality. In the middle of the second week, 200 activists were temporarily removed from the venue, after they protested the lack of progress in the negotiations. This was days after 500,000 people – alongside Time Person of 2019 Greta Thunberg – crowded the streets of Madrid demanding ‘climate justice’.The disappointment was evident in the statement released by none other than the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that said “I am disappointed with the results of COP25.The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis.”

The poor outcome leaves COP26 hosts the UK and Italy with an exceptionally heavy lift through 2020 to encourage major polluters to deliver new emission cuts in line with science.The EU’s green new deal and new 2050 net zero pledge, over 70 countries committing to better climate plans in 2020 and a surge in businesses and record numbers of investors transitioning to carbon neutrality offers hope.But London and Rome will need to deploy their full diplomatic, economic and financial arsenal to get the world back on track in 2020. Eyes will also be on the EU-China summit in Leipzig next September, where Brussels and Beijing could jointly deliver their 2020 climate plan.