Madrid climate talks kick the can on to Glasgow

The 25th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in December last year in Madrid was generally judged a failure. After fractious negotiations exctended through two nights after the conference was due to end, delegates decided to defer some of the thorniest issues to the next UN climate summit in Glasgow in 2020. The situation is serious:

    “The global emissions’ curve needs to bend in 2020, emissions need to be cut in half by 2030, and net zero emissions need to be a reality by 2050,” said Johan Rockstrom, head of the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

    “Achieving this is possible – with existing technologies and within our current economy,” said the revered climate scientist. “The window of opportunity is open, but barely.”


One of the problems was that the Chilean presidency took a very black letter legalistic attitude to the issue of ambition during the meeting.

There has been a general understanding that initial country emissions reduction targets would be ratchetted up in 2020. The UNEP (UN Environment Program (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report 2019 shows emissions growing annually. This graph gives an indication of where they are coming from:

What the graph doesn’t tell us is that the EU and the US are increasingly importing embodied emissions.

The report says:

    There is no sign of GHG emissions peaking in the next few years; every year of postponed peaking means that deeper and faster cuts will be required. By 2030, emissions would need to be 25 per cent and 55 per cent lower than in 2018 to put the world on the least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to below 2 ̊C and 1.5°C respectively.

This issue of the perils of delay has been explained may times, for example by Rahmstorf and Levermann in 2017:

As explained fully in this Climate Home News report, the Chilean presidency took a black letter law approach to ‘ambition’ in the Paris Agreement. The letter of the Agreement only requires those countries which chose a 2025 deadline to front up with increased ambitions in 2020. Most adopted a 2030 target, meaning that they don’t have to ratchet up until 2025.

Since the US has signalled its intention to pull out, this leaves only Brazil and 13 other countries – Ecuador, Congo, Gabon, El Salvador, Suriname, Guyana, Belize, Micronesia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Niue, Palau, Tuvalu – representing a quarter of one per cent of global emissions.

Climate Home News has a long list of promises made before the meeting, but it only amounts to about 70 countries increasing ambition, with the main hold-outs. Climate Tracker has an up-to-date list. At time of writing 37 countries stated their intention to update an NDC (Nationally Determined Contribution) by 2020 (including the European Union), representing 12% of global emissions, while 108 countries have now stated their intention to enhance ambition or action in an NDC by 2020, representing 15.1% of global emissions.

Apart from Australia, we find China, the US, India, Russia and Brazil missing in action.

China and India

In my opinion the Kyoto process (indeed the whole UN/IPCC approach) was flawed from the outset because policy makers thought there was burnable carbon compatible with the notion of a safe climate. I explained in this long read on the climate emergency that the planetary boundary for a safe climate was established by James Hansen at 350 ppm of CO2 in 2007, a level which had been passed in September 1988, two months after Hansen’s testimony to the US Senate.

India and China have always said that global warming was created by the advanced economies, and it was their problem to fix, while as developing countries China and India reserve the right to develop their economies using fossil fuels at their discretion. Moreover, there has always been a notion that wealthy countries will assist developing countries in moving to clean energy.

Hence in Madrid China was still suggesting that there should be a “work programme” (see Cop25: What was achieved and where to next? – section headed Pre-2020):

    Developing countries have for years expressed their frustration that rich countries haven’t lived up to the climate action they promised up to 2020.

    Even though 2020 is nearly upon us, these concerns over meeting previous promises remain and again became a source of political tension at the talks.

    Countries such as China and India made it clear they would not support strong language on raising ambition without a similar call for rich countries to provide the finance and support promised to developing countries.

    They called for the creation of a “work programme” to close the gap of commitments made by rich countries before 2020. But the EU opposed this, saying the focus needs to be on future ambition under the Paris Agreement, which applies to all countries. Other poorer developing countries made it clear that, while they support pre-2020 action, higher ambition for the future from all countries should not be conditional on it.

    In the final text, countries agreed to hold pre-2020 roundtables. The outcomes of these pre-2020 roundtables will also be rounded up in a report in 2021, which will in turn feed into a review on progress towards meeting the Paris Agreement’s “well below 2C” goal.

All the while China has been assisting countries to build coal-fired power under the ‘Belt and Road’ banner, most recently in Bosnia and Serbia just as the European Parliament endorses $1.6 trillion investment plan for Green New Deal.

Global carbon markets

The UNFCCC has been trying to establish a global carbon market, which has been entirely unsuccessful. At Madrid no progress was made, largely because of Brazil and Australia.

Again there is a succinct summary at Cop25: What was achieved and where to next?

The market was agreed to in the Paris Agreement in 2015 and is due to come into effect in 2020. However, there is a small matter of establishing agreed rules. Costa Rica led a group of 31 countries, including France, Germany, the UK, Spain and New Zealand which have agreed to the ‘San Jose principles”.

Brazil amazingly wants to be able to sell credits while still counting them towards its own effort. There is a feeling that Australia’s desire to count Kyoto credits will undermine the integrity of the whole market.

So the matter will not be progressed until perhaps next year.

Chile’s environment minister and COP25 president Carolina Schmidt has come under criticism for the failure of the talks, with calls for her resignation in Chile’s Congress. She blamed Brazil, Australia, China and the United States, and seems to think that overall she succeeded by managing to preserve the Paris Agreement.

Australia is now seen internationally as an example of the disasters in store as the world warms. Yet at the IRENA world renewables conference the world is dynamically planning the next step for renewables, while Australia looks backwards, relying on our record, and what new technology might bring.

Back home new projects risk being strangled at birth by a lack of planning for the grid and restrictive rules.

There is a detailed report on the Madrid conference at Carbon Brief.

See also The only 7 countries that are on track to meet the Paris Agreement—and how they’re doing it. You have to click on “Next Page at the bottom. The countries are said to be Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, India, The Philippines, Morocco and Gambia.

The world should just ring-fence Australia and keep it under observation until the adults once again take charge.

46 thoughts on “Madrid climate talks kick the can on to Glasgow”

  1. According to this Reuters report UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres found the talks disappointing.

      Many developing countries and campaigners had wanted to see much more explicit language spelling out the importance of countries submitting bolder pledges on emissions as the Paris process enters a crucial implementation phase next year.

      Brazil, China, Australia, Saudi Arabia and the United States had led resistance to bolder action, delegates said.

      “These talks reflect how disconnected country leaders are from the urgency of the science and the demands of their citizens in the streets,” said Helen Mountford, Vice President for Climate and Economics, at the World Resources Institute think-tank. “They need to wake up in 2020.”

  2. Zoot: “How do we make these buggers take notice?” They think their power and their money will protect them and theirs from the dangers outlined in the article you linked to above. (Or at least believe they will be safely dead by the time the bits that scare them will happen.)
    As a start we should all have a look at your link.

  3. If the problem can be sorted without socialist compulsion, would y’all take the chance ?

    Because we all know prohibition and force is non effective historically. Governments, bureaucrats, and diplomats have done Jack Shit for the last 30 years or more, time we faced that fact.

    Marx has really stained the minds of many folk.
    Thankfully not mine .

  4. If the problem can be sorted without socialist compulsion, would y’all take the chance ?

    Of course we would.
    Since capitalism and free market orthodoxy has done Jack Shit for the last 30 years or more, what’s your solution?

  5. Jumpy: “If the problem can be sorted without socialist compulsion, would y’all take the chance ?” You seem to describe as ” socialist” any form of government that tries to give everyone a fair go or tries to make the hard decisions that give us some chance of of surviving into the future.
    In the meantime “Australia’s rich keep getting richer, with the top 1 per cent of Australians having more than double the wealth of the entire bottom 50 per cent — or more than 12.5 million people – according to Oxfam.”
    Fortunately, Australia’s non-socialist government gave these nice rich dears a tax cut to help them be a little bit richer.
    It is worth taking a risk with a slightly more socialist government than the advertising agency incompetents we have at the moment.

  6. Who, pray tell, is this Mr Jack Shit?

    I looked up Mr John Shit, Sir John Shit, Lord John of Shit (Creek), Jack Schitt, Jack Schidt, John Schitt, John Schidt, M. Jean Schitte; Jean, Le Comte de Schitte; Jan Scijt, Jan Scjizt, Jon Shit, Jonathan Shit, Jonathan Shit, John Maynard Shit, Juan Sheet, and Johnny Shit-for-Br**ns, and came up with a blank – actually, with a sequence of blanks


  7. The second Jonathan should be “Jonathon”.

    Gippsland Free Range Pedants
    and usually Unheard

  8. Many thanks, oh wise one.

    Genealogy has a lot to answer for.
    Or is that Lot? I think he was married to Lot’s wife.

    Can’t recall who they begot.
    (Legend says, it was like getting brood out of a stone.)

  9. Zoot: “Truth be told, I think he’s a distant cousin to our own Jumpy.” Are you talking about your mate “Sir talks a load of Schitt”? (STALOS)

  10. Hey, you leave Stalos alone! He my cousin. He from Athens, good boy, wants no trouble hard worker, likes his souvlaki.

    Stalos uncle build Acropolis, you know it?! Good position, plenty acres no olives tree but we can work something out OK?! Plenty tourists making good drachma for you. Investment!!

    Good position near shops, tavernas, Plaka, schools buses, occasional riots but they far away no troubles for you. Good position, never built out, always view over top smog. You say James Pecker want build big casino next door? No way, Mikis!! We not allow. My cousins fix.

    Athens Planning Dept,
    Real Estate Office

  11. Shane Wright & Eryk Bagshaw have a piece in Nine Newspapers (“The Age”) headed

    Climate crisis could spark Reserve Bank rescue mission

    The Reserve Bank has been warned it may have to buy up coal mines and fossil-fuel power stations as part of extraordinary actions to save the economy from climate change-induced financial disaster.

    As Australian business leaders grow increasingly worried climate change will hit their bottom lines and the International Monetary Fund warns global warming is now a major financial risk, a new warning issued by the world’s top central bank says the RBA could be forced into rescuing the economy and the environment.

    The Bank for International Settlements, which acts as the central bank to the world’s central banks, overnight told its members they had to start incorporating climate change into their thinking about the stability of the economy.
    “In the worst case scenario, central banks may have to confront a situation where they are called upon by their local constituencies to intervene as climate rescuers of last resort,” it said.

    The BIS said climate change events that severely affected the financial health of the banking and insurance sectors could force central banks to intervene and “buy a large set of carbon-intensive assets”.

    Have I got this right?

    Coal asset prices start to drop.
    “Stranded” assets.
    Investors move away.
    Asset prices drop further.
    Carbon-emitting industries start going bankrupt.
    Asset values plummet.
    Causing financial instability…..
    The instability can ricochet around a national economy, and across the globe.
    Power supplies become threatened (not by dirty big storms, or bushfires, or strikes, or inadequate maintenance) but by bankruptcy!!
    Uncertainty leads to lower spending by individuals, families, small and large businesses: it’s the economy, silly!

    And the solution??
    Dear old RBA has to buy up coal mines, coal-fired power stations, and heavy emitters….

    Note to voters: some of you thought the Federal Dept of Environment (Midnight Oils) was unsuited to organise a Home Insulation scheme; whaddya reckon about the econometricians at the RBA trying to run a power plant?


    Surely there must be a better way…..?

  12. Ambi: Can’t have the fossil companies who ignored all the warnings go broke can we? But still OK for people whose finances have been burned as a result of climate action and the campaigns of some of the fossil companies to go broke?

  13. OK, John and zoot, please explain.

    Did the Govt bail out the Victorian Quivering Quill Producers? The typewriter ribbon manufacturers? The Whale Oil Procurers?

    Did the RBA buy up all the outdated IBM golf balls for varied typefaces and symbols? I mean: where do we (the voters) draw the line?

    I can understand if a rellie of nice Mr Howard PM needs a bit of a hand, or a struggling Nationals MP who has a farm or some investments is doing it tough. But that’s small beer.

    This is dirty big holes in the ground and open cut or underground extraction; railway lines; maintenance crews; dirty big furnaces and high pressure high temperature pipes; generators; transmission lines; cooling towers and cooling ponds; smokestacks and precipitators to catch some of the fly ash.

    You reckon Hazelwood was the dirtiest? Maybe so. They’re mostly dirty and mostly huge.

    Coulda been Engie got out of Hazelwood Power Station because they predicted it was heading towards being a dirty big stranded asset next to a dirty big (proven flammable) hole in the ground = Morwell open cut brown coal mine. The Victorian Govt refused to buy Haselwood. Yep, the “Socialist Left” Daniel Andrews Govt had no stomach for re-nationalisation.

    So where would that leave the RBA if they bought up coal-fired power stations? To the left of Premier Andrews??

    That’s on the standard, conventional axis where State Ownership is at the Soviet/ Commo “Left” end, and the Jumpy Free Association of Libertarians is at the other “Right” end….

  14. War is peace.
    Freedom is slavery.
    Ignorance is strength.

    That’s all you have to remember.
    (Absorbing the thoughts of Chairman Rupert will keep it fresh in your mind).

  15. There has never been a Market Failure.

    There has only been a Failure to Market.

    Uncle Rupert.
    Uncle Rupert.
    Uncle Rupert.
    Aunty Jerry.

    All is for the best, in this, the best of all possible worlds.

    Ambi of Pangloss Mansions
    The “Rosebud” Suite

  16. After his last outburst our northern correspondent has been completely silent.
    It would appear that rather than having any practical suggestion for sorting the problem without socialist compulsion he was just repeating his usual tedious cheerleading for laissez-faire economics.

  17. ….. our northern correspondent has been completely silent.

    Lol, like an annoying Hardly Normal advertising on SBS, he will interrupt the show again, blaring his wares, relentlessly and offensively. I gave up playing Monopoly tm when I was 14. I got bored with a game where everybody goes broke and the bank ends up with all the money. In my last game I was able to talk each and every player into an agreement to send the bank broke. So we did, non of us ever made that much money in any game before. Then a light went up, it’s just a game and a soulless one at that. If I’d have to choose between capital and humanity., book me down for the latter.

    Here in Katterland the weekly Rupert Länder, after decades of climate bile, featured a surprising editorial. A crisp declaration for all to see where he, the editor stands and what he thinks ought to happen science, renewables and everything, as well as why he for so long had published the regular Letters from his ‘friend’, the local Skyafterdark correspondent and father to Barnaby’s new love, dishing out Greenie bashing climate fantasies. Same time there was no LtE featuring above mentioned regular contributor. The Deep North will never be the same again. In other news, Uncle Bob, him of the big hat, had a discussion on Facebook on the merits of the Deep North and nuclear power, Greenie bashing Luftschlösser were being built like pubs in the mirages of the vast plains of Carpentaria.

  18. Ootz, there is a story about the history of the game of Monopoly.

    From memory a woman invented it with values the reverse of what they have now. Some patriarchal male got hold of it, changed it all around and marketed it.

    Ambi, there was an ABC RN comment today by someone who would know. Some central banks in other countries have different responsibilities. The chances of our Reserve Bank buying stranded assets are zero.

    It is significant, though, that the climate emergency is being taken seriously.

  19. According to Wikipedia it all started when

    In 1903, Georgist Lizzie Magie applied for a patent on a game called The Landlord’s Game with the object of showing that rents enriched property owners and impoverished tenants.

  20. Lol … from Forbes in ‘Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050’ by Drew Hansen, making a case for:

    “”The Increasing Importance Of Distributed Ownership And Governance””
    “”Joint Ownership Will Lead To Collaborative Management””

    because of:

    “”Capitalism has generated massive wealth for some, but it’s devastated the planet and has failed to improve human well-being at scale.

    • Species are going extinct at a rate 1,000 times faster than that of the natural rate over the previous 65 million years (see Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School).

    • Since 2000, 6 million hectares of primary forest have been lost each year. That’s 14,826,322 acres, or just less than the entire state of West Virginia (see the 2010 assessment by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN).

    • Even in the U.S., 15% of the population lives below the poverty line. For children under the age of 18, that number increases to 20% (see U.S. Census).””

    I tell you, Forbes, not just some woke marxist inner-city late sipper.

  21. Brian, you surprised me when a couple of times you declined my suggestion to look at the role of divestment in its usefullness in climate transition/emergency.

    It seems to have an impact on Adani contractors.
    “(Greyhound) Bus company’s CEO Alex de Waal resigns from board of Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation after support for coal project declared ‘clear conflict’”

    I have been following MarketForces, an affiliate project of Friends of the Earth, since it’s inception. Today they run a campaign targeting UniSuper to get out of coal. Given MF’s past record there is a good chance they will succeed.

    Another good source of action re divestment or more so probity, Stephen Mayne on Twitter re above news:

    “”This issue pops up all over the place. Asked at the @woolworths AGM how it could be credible on climate change with Lachlan Murdoch’s long time Aussie fixer, Siobhan McKenna, sitting on their board””.

  22. Why haven’t I commented ?
    Because I’ve decided it’s useless.

    When the RBA ( an arm of government) is ridiculously said to want to purchase coal fired power stations. Literally the state ownership of the means of electricity production, is passed of as “ the glories of Capitalism “, I know that real definition have no place.

    Why waste my time ?

    And I know folk here are not stupid so there’s another reason.

  23. And I know folk here are not stupid so there’s another reason.

    Probably your inability to put aside your inbuilt biases when you try to parse simple English discussions.
    e.g. the discussion about the RBA buying stranded coal assets was not about nationalising an industry, it was about governments rescuing undeserving capitalists who have made poor investment decisions.
    This has been a recurring theme under Coalition governments in Australia – privatise profits and socialise costs.

  24. If the RBA were to purchase a coal burning power station, to keep it running when its value had plummeted, wouldn’t the RBA then be managing it?

    Not selling it on (at a huge loss).
    Not closing it down (paying out worker entitlements, remediating the site).

    Running it.
    I think this would certainly be bailing out the previous owners, but would also amount to nationalisation. These purposes and outcomes being compatible.

    John D has argued here that privatisation of power generation and retailing was a mistake.

    Jumpy, part of the “mixed economy” is somewhat capitalist (you know, where there are private owners and shareholders). A fundamental question in the mixed economy, is how to deal with bankruptcy. This question arises frequently!

    Are some entities “too big to fail”? Pres Obama thought so, just over a decade ago.

  25. “” Are some entities “too big to fail”? “”

    I say NO.

    Perhaps Obama could tell the class at which exact point in size an entity switches from vulnerable to safe from failure.

  26. As I recall, Pres Obama’s decision was based on the notion that the US financial system was very wobbly, and he didn’t want to push it over a cliff.

    (Despite some folk talking about his earlier friendship with an old Weather Underground leader, it seems that in office he had stability as an important criterion: no revolutionist he. No anarchist impulse to ‘destroy the joint’. No Wall Street Collapse to be blamed on him.)

    What would you prefer he had decided?
    And what would the likely outcome(s) have been?

  27. Around the same time, Mr Rudd’s Govt decided to guarantee the Big Four Aussie private banks.

    No revolutionist he.

  28. “”What would you prefer he had decided?””

    How about saying,

    Obama: Hey all you mortgage folk, the entity you owe money to is dead. You now own that house.
    Hey investors and deposit holders, you picked the wrong entity, it’s gone.

  29. I’ll just let you think about who the winners and losers would have been if that happened.
    Quite different to who the big winners and big losers were under Obama.

  30. Today I heard Prof Warwick McKibbin interviewed about the likelihood of the Reserve Bank buying stranded assets.

    He said, only if to do so was necessary to prevent the destabilisation of the currency. He can’t foresee that ever happening.

    On climate policy the interviewer asked him what was the worst that could happen. He said, the big problem is that we just don’t know.

  31. Ootz, as I’ve said before, I don’t have a clear memory of me declining your suggestion “to look at the role of divestment in its usefulness in climate transition/emergency”.

    It’s certainly an issue now, but I get to write less than a 10th of what I’d like to write about.

    So I would if I could, but I can’t make promises.

    Last night the CP site wouldn’t work for me, and I ended up ringing Telstra, where we pay $15 per month extra for Telstra Premium, and they will help us 24/7 with any internet connected item in the house.

    Last night it was Travis in Townsville, and he was the best I’ve ever had. gave me useful tips on how to manage my computer use.

    However, that didn’t get any writing done.

    Other than that, my wife and I always watch a bit of tennis at this time of the year. Tonight we saw Roger Federer play the most sublime tennis we’ve ever seen. In the first two sets the other guy was getting 93% of his first serves in, and was broken three times.

    However, you can’t expect Federer at 38 to win 7 best of five matches in a row.

    My other little problem at present is that I have four different things wrong with my eyes. The worst has been blurred vision looking at computer screens late at night.

    I’m putting stuff in my eyes about 9 or 10 times a day. However, the Manuka honey gel I’ve been using 3 times a day stings like buggery, but seems to be doing some good.

    Have cataract surgery scheduled for May.

    Meanwhile I’ll puddle on!

  32. Ambi: “John D has argued here that privatisation of power generation and retailing was a mistake.” My position is a bit more nuanced than that:
    1 It was a mistake made worse by using a stupid retailing system to set power prices and pay good money to retailers.
    2. Strongly against privatizing the power distribution monopolies.
    3. Strongly in favour of the overall system and grid being controlled by government owned corporations. (Open mind whether these are operated and maintained by gov corps or contractors.)
    4. Open mind re who owns generators.
    5. Contracts should be largely based on provision of capacity.

  33. So total government control over the means of production of electricity, I single ministerial monopoly across the Fatherland and crony partners.

    Original idea Karl M Davidson, sure to work this time.

  34. Mr J

    Did you notice in John’s points 2. and 3., the term ‘open mind’?

    This refers to an intellect willing to consider various possibilities.
    (Not “open [cut] mined” as in LaTrobe Valley brown coal).

    My error was to summarise John’s views inaccurately.
    But now that he’s reminded us in a five point list, you appear (to me) to misunderstand the nuances there.

    In my opinion, John’s five point list is nowhere near Soviet-style national ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

    Are you aware of the “mixed economy” model where some private, profitable ownership somehow muddles along next to some State-owned enterprises, which muddles along next to private farms, resident-owned housing, rental properties, Big Private Banks, and small co-ops. It’s a complicated and varied model of finance and economic activity, Mr J; but well worth a visit if you ever have time.

    Just around the corner from your place…. we call it “Australia”. Not perfect, could do with a few improvements, but well worth observing.

    V.I. Lenin apparently wrote that Australian workers in early 20th century Australia were relying – wrongly in his lordly view – on trade unions and Parliament to improve their lot.

    K. Marx would have been appalled if he had visited 1950s, 1960s Australia with its State-owned power monopolies, etc. and “mixed economy”.

  35. It’s folks that add nothing, no questions, no answers, no ideas put, no reason given for their position but just poo poo others position with name calling and sneer that I try to avoid.

    Jumpy September 4, 2015 at 12:33 pm.

  36. I think it’s past time Scotty the Pharisee let us know if his inaction is due to his belief that his lord and saviour is about to return and lift him into heaven.

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