Gridlocked UN climate talks aimed at securing more ambitious commitments to tackle emissions under the 2015 Paris accord have come to a close, with a key decision on the most challenging issues postponed for another year.
After two weeks of drawn-out negotiations on tackling global warming, the delegates from almost 200 nations attending the UN Climate Change Conference COP 25 in Madrid did pass declarations calling for greater ambition in cutting planet-heating greenhouse gases and in helping poor countries suffering the effects of climate change.
But despite the 25th instalment of the annual conference proving the longest in its history and exhausted attendees racking up more than 40 hours of overtime, the future of global carbon markets remains unwritten. Strong, last-minute disagreements on the topic mean the decision will have to be delayed until next year’s gathering in Glasgow.
Among the early documents to be passed by delegates was the “Chile-Madrid Time for Action” declaration calling on countries to improve their current pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That is needed to come in line with the Paris Agreement target of avoiding a temperature increase of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
So far, the world is on course for a three to four-degree Celsius rise, with potentially dramatic consequences for many countries.
Delegates also agreed to designate funds for the most vulnerable countries to compensate them for the effects of extreme weather events, one of the most pressing issues for small island states and other developing nations.
But environmental groups and activists accused the world’s richer countries of showing little commitment to seriously tackling climate change.
“The Paris Agreement may have been the victim of a hit-and-run by a handful of powerful carbon economies, but they are on the wrong side of this struggle, the wrong side of history,” said Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace International’s executive director.
Looking on from the sidelines, US Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was even more damning in her assessment, branding the talks an “utter failure”.
“COP25 and conferences like it are intended to be actual negotiations to urgently drawdown global carbon emissions – not cocktail parties to make politicians feel better about themselves as they squash dissent and sell off our futures to fossil fuel interests,” the progressive and Green New Deal architect wrote on Twitter.
Chile chaired the talks, which had to be quickly moved to Madrid amid violent anti-government protests back home. Despite the pressure to deliver a positive outcome, activists criticised the Chilean government of president Santiago Pinera for holding on to coal-fired power plants until 2040.
Carbon markets, which economists consider key in providing incentives for the world to move towards low-carbon growth models, remained one of the trickiest points of contention and ultimately no resolution could be found, despite the best efforts of negotiators.
Setting a price on emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, the markets allow countries or companies to trade emissions permits that can be steadily reduced – encouraging the uptake of low-emission technologies.
Europe and other countries had said that no deal on how to govern the exchange of carbon credits was better than one that could undermine a dozen or so existing regional mechanisms.
The talks have been accompanied at times by angry protests from indigenous and environmental groups, both inside and outside the venue. The demonstrations reflected growing frustration, particularly among young people, at the slow pace of government efforts to curb climate change.
Helen Mountford from World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank, said the talks “reflect how disconnected country leaders are from the urgency of the science and the demands of their citizens in the streets”.
“They need to wake up in 2020,” she added.
Additional reporting by AP