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.