COP25 summit fails to address key carbon markets issue

Final declaration called for fresh proposals on pledges on reducing carbon emissions to be in place by COP26.

U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid
Activists protest outside the venue of the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid [Susana Vera/Reuters]

Madrid, Spain – After lengthy negotiations, delegations from nearly 200 countries at the COP25 climate summit have reached an agreement on stepping up the global response to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

However, negotiators on Sunday stalled on an agreement on the regulation of carbon markets, one of the most critical and contentious issues at the climate change conference.

The final declaration called for fresh proposals on pledges on reducing carbon emissions to be in place by next year’s COP26. It also called for more ambition to close the gap between existing emissions pledges and goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. 

Although negotiations at the IFEMA trade centre dragged on two days past the official deadline, delegates left the issue of regulating carbon markets until the COP26 summit in Glasgow.

COP25’s closing plenary eventually began on Sunday morning, more than 36 hours after the conference was due to finish on Friday evening, easily outstripping Durban 2011 as the longest COP to date.

“Generally you can see that countries take the [landmark] Paris Agreement seriously, and a big number of countries want to move forward,” Christoph Bals, policy director at NGO Germanwatch, told Al Jazeera.

However, he underlined that the continuing conflict between countries including “the US, Australia and Brazil, where the business model is strongly connected with the fossil [fuel] industries”, had been “very visible” during the negotiations.

Asked if that battle concerning carbon markets would continue in the years to come, Bals said it would “in the international forum, but also on a national level”.

“Countries like Switzerland have announced here – and the EU – that they will implement their own rules to deal with the international market mechanisms in a responsible way.”

Spain’s minister for ecological transition, Teresa Ribera, who was reportedly called in by Chile’s environment minister and COP25 president, Carolina Schmidt, at the last minute to help negotiations move forward, admitted earlier this week to tension between unspecified countries wanting to advance more quickly and others focussed on what she called the “small print” of the Paris agreement.

After Friday’s official closure of COP25, negotiations reopened on Saturday, as the conference’s significant Time for Action slogan continued to flash on a big screen outside the venue.

Four more scheduled times for the final plenary were announced only to be cancelled, as increasingly exhausted delegates wrangled over the implementation of the landmark Paris Agreement of 2015.

Grassroots movement

Despite COP25’s mixed results, there were plenty of signs of flourishing grassroots activity against climate change around the two-week conference in Madrid.

Following the arrival of teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who had travelled across the Atlantic by catamaran, a demonstration under the banner “The world has woken up to the climate emergency” drew tens of thousands of protesters on December 6.

Youth climate activists also pushed for a global strike on the conference’s final official day, protesting that human rights and social justice had been sidelined. A noisy but good-humoured protest took place in the COP25 entrance hallway on Friday afternoon, with dozens of young activists sitting on the floor to listen to speeches and songs before moving outside to join another group of protesters.

“Young people have demonstrated before at COPs but this last year the Fridays for Future movement has been even more of a driver,” Amnesty International’s climate change adviser Chiara Liguori told Al Jazeera.

Protestors holding a cardboard reading
Protesters holding a cardboard reading ‘I am hot for my planet, limit the carbon print’ take part in a climate change protest [Francois Mori/AP Photo]

Tepet Lauron, a Philippine activist from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, told Al Jazeera that the negotiations resulted in a “sellout”.

“What you’re seeing right now is our collective expression of disappointment and disagreement with the wholesale sellout that these negotiations are bringing to people on the planet,” the activist said. “Two weeks of negotiations but what do we have?”

Even after COP25 was officially over, on Saturday afternoon, Extinction Rebellion activists gathered outside the IFEMA building with a cartload of animal dung in a graphic protest of how they viewed the world’s current situation with regards to climate change, “but also to try put pressure on governments so people in there can make some changes”, activist Ronan McNern said.

The mixed results of COP25 also contrasted with an EU announcement last Wednesday in Brussels that they had created a unanimous goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, although Poland which derives 80 percent of its energy from coal, will be allowed more time to carry this out.

Bals said the final declaration was “far stronger than the text we saw a few days before”.

“But the value of this signal can only be judged at the end of next year” – at COP26 in Glasgow next December – “when we see how many of the G-20 countries are willing to increase their ambition of their NDCs” – the Nationally Determined Contributions, efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Source: Al Jazeera