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Environment

COP25: Climate conference falls short of concrete action

Negotiators end a mammoth conference with a watered-down deal. Activists voice disappointment over a conference they say will have little impact in terms of climate action.

After more than two weeks of intense negotiations, nations at the UN Climate Conference in Madrid agreed to deals to enhance their targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  

But environmental organizations and activists were disappointed at the failure to outline concrete action that would be taken by governments before the next climate conference in Glasgow.

Read more: COP25: Who are the biggest climate winners and losers?

"The can-do spirit that birthed the Paris Agreement feels like a distant memory today," said Helen Mountford, vice president for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute. "Instead of leading the charge for greater ambition, most major emitters have been missing in action."

In what became the longest ever COP conference, extending from Friday — when it was due to finish — until Sunday afternoon, delegates clashed over financing being discussed for developing countries to help them adapt to climate impacts and a controversial article dealing with carbon markets within the Paris Agreement rulebook.

Main sticking points within the carbon market provisions included:

  • Fear of double counting — that both countries selling and buying carbon credits would count the carbon reductions as their own.
  • Countries, including Brazil, hoping to sell on old carbon credits associated with a former market under the Kyoto Protocol.
  • Carbon markets leading to a lack of ambition within nationally-determined climate targets.
Watch video 00:32

Greenpeace Director Jennifer Morgan: "This text is completely unacceptable"

Pressure from youth and civil society

Countries were unable to come to an agreement on the market mechanism, which will now be pushed into next year when nations will meet in Glasgow for COP26 to implement the Paris Agreement.

But delegates did manage to come to an agreement over ambition — one of the key elements of the Paris Agreement that will see nations adjust and increase their carbon reduction targets every five years.

Read more: COP25: Why are high emission countries lagging on climate protection?

Minister for the ecological transition of Spain, Teresa Ribera, said there was more positive than negative achieved at the conference, but that there were still elements missing. "There are big countries that don't want to accelerate climate action, and despite that, we've achieved that call and agreement to enhance climate action and do it formally led by science," she said.

Delegates were under more pressure than ever before at the COP conference as youth and civil society campaigners, including Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, took part in the two-week conference to demand action from leaders.

But activists used a pause in proceedings on Saturday to hold their own "People's Plenary," praising action being taken all over the world and the protests that have seen millions of people take to the streets in the past year.

However, they also criticized leaders involved in talks at the COP25, calling the conference a "failure" for both the people and the planet.

"We are here to express the power of the people to mandate climate justice," Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, told DW. "Governments of the world have come into these halls and failed to stand up for the demands that their people have made in the streets for action on climate change," she added.

Disappointment and frustration

As the conference rolled on into Saturday evening, delegates from multiple developing countries, including Mexico, Colombia, and Belize, expressed their disappointment and frustration at the weakening of text referring to emission reduction targets, which they said would lead to a lack of ambition.

Read more: The role of the business sector in tackling the climate crisis

Climate envoy Tina Stege from the Marshall Islands, one of the nations already being impacted by rising sea levels as a result of the climate crisis, said that high emitting nations were backtracking on their promises.

"We should be calling for a quantum leap in the other direction," she said. "We are here and we'll fight and the world is watching us. I need to go home and look my children in the eye and say we came out with an outcome that's going to ensure their future and the future of all of our children."

Nations were also divided over the issues of "loss and damage," a fund that would compensate countries already facing the impacts of climate change.

Representatives from almost 200 nations took part in the talks in Madrid. They aimed to finish the so-called rulebook, a set of guidelines that will be used to implement the Paris Agreement from next year.

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