COP25 — hurriedly relocated to Madrid, as Santiago, Chile is convulsed by protests — is taking place in the context of an accelerating climate crisis, yet also in an increasingly complicated political backdrop. This political complexity makes responding to the environmental crisis more difficult, but also more urgent.
What outcomes should we seek from COP25 that might be equal to the challenge? Below, I suggest six elements that the COP needs to deliver.
This past year has underscored both the scale of the challenge we face and the inadequacy of the collective response so far. We are far from a trajectory that would hold warming to below 1.5°C, rather we are on course for an average temperature increase of more than 3°C — an undoubtedly catastrophic prospect for people and nature.
Countries have until the end of next year to update, strengthen and enhance national climate plans (called Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs in negotiations parlance), setting out the emission reductions they plan to deliver by 2030. These need to demonstrate at least double the effort of the first iteration, published in the run up to the 2015 Paris climate summit where the Paris Agreement was finalized.
Governments also need to step up with their long-term strategies — which must include a sharp reduction in the dependence on fossil fuels — assuring that the world is on course for carbon-neutrality by mid century. UN Environment reports that G20 nations collectively account for 78 per cent of all emissions, but only five G20 members have committed to a long-term zero emissions target, and COP25 is where they have an opportunity to show climate leadership.
The COP also provides an opportunity for the Chilean COP Presidency to boost their Climate Ambition Alliance — and hopefully see more countries join those that, at its launch in New York in September, pledged to submit enhanced NDCs and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Chile has also started a process of NDC revision, aiming to announce its revised NDC by March 2020. This should serve as an example for other countries, especially the biggest emitters.
The COP needs to send a clear political message that the objectives of the Paris Agreement are
realistic, feasible and can be delivered on schedule. To that end, we propose that a high-level ministerial ambition dialogue is convened, starting at the COP and continuing in 2020. The COP should approve such a process as a way to recover political momentum and send a strong signal to the world that decision-makers continue to consider climate change an urgent priority.
This COP should also highlight the importance of the Latin American climate agenda: tackling its vulnerability to climate change and focusing on nature-based solutions, an energy transition towards low-carbon development and promoting a sustainable land sector.
This will be the first COP since the United States formalised its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and the first since Jair Balsonaro took power in Brazil with climate skeptics in key ministries. In the face of denialism and vested fossil fuel interests, this COP needs to maintain the vision of a carbon-neutral world by no later than 2050.
Stronger role for non-state actors
The actions of the Trump administration illustrate the vulnerability of the Paris process to electoral reverses at the national level. The deep involvement of non-state actors — such as sub-national governments, business, NGOs and academia — is not only critical in our efforts to reduce carbon emissions, but it can help to advance climate action in the face of (hopefully temporary) refusal of some governments to acknowledge the urgency of the problem.
The COP must build on progress made — such as the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action — to integrate the work of non-state actors within the Paris process. It is important that non-state actors continue to play a key role in the UNFCCC post-2020.
Around the world, we are seeing growing social tensions, many of which have a climate dimension.The climate crisis, and its impacts on people’s lives and livelihoods, is the tinder through which these social tensions turn into serious firestorms.
Social considerations and addressing inequalities clearly need to be at the heart of our response to climate change. The COP needs to send clear signals about how to support the world’s poor and most vulnerable in the net zero carbon transition, how to ensure that workers in carbon-intensive industries do not face a loss of livelihoods, security and self-respect, and how a gender-balanced transition can be delivered.
The young people of the world have lost patience with the failure of older generations to adequately respond to the climate crisis. The Fridays For Future school strike movement, and other youth-led campaigns have had a profound impact on global awareness of the urgency of the climate issue. The pinnacle of these efforts was the inspirational demonstrations in September that were reported to have been the largest on behalf of climate action ever. The COP needs to demonstrate that their voice has been heard and there is a place at the table for the generation that will inherit the climate crisis from us.
Nature as a solution
Too often, the climate debate revolves around technology and economics. Nature has a central role to play in helping to solve the climate crisis — and, of course, is hugely vulnerable in a warming world. And although it cannot solve the problem by itself, it is a central piece of the systemic transformation we need. Next year, the Convention on Biological Diversity’s post-2020 global biodiversity framework is set to be negotiated in Kunming, China, providing an unprecedented opportunity to bring climate and biodiversity together. COP25 must send the message that those objectives can be aligned.
Without doubt, the Chilean COP Presidency faces serious challenges in delivering progress in the face of political headwinds. But there is also no doubt that, given the growing urgency of the climate crisis, progress is essential. All countries must do their fair share, especially the ones that are historically responsible for the problem and that hold the most resources. 2020 is a key year for strong decisions and action on climate and nature; we can’t afford not living up to the expectations of the people on the streets.