World / Science & Health

COP 25 climate talks have 'failed the people,' activists say

AFP-JIJI, Thomson Reuters Foundation

The U.N. climate summit in Madrid stumbled toward the finish line Sunday after marathon talks between countries exposed deeper divides than ever over how to enact humanity’s plan to avert a global warming disaster.

More than a day and a half after the negotiations were due to end, delegates were close to agreement on contentious issues, including how ambitious each nation is in its individual plan to fight climate change.

Faced with fire-alarm warnings from science, deadly extreme weather made worse by climate change, and weekly strikes by millions of young people, negotiations in Madrid were under pressure to send a clear signal that governments were willing to double down on tackling the crisis.

But observers and delegates from nations already bearing the brunt of climate-related disasters said the COP 25 in Madrid had resolutely failed to live up to its slogan of “time for action.”

“We wanted provisions that were in the Paris agreement to remain and what we see at every COP it just seems to be another opportunity to erode those,” Grenada envoy Simon Stiell said. “There are one or two parties that seem hellbent on ensuring any calls for ambition, action, environmental integrity are rolled back,” he added.

Delegates from nearly 200 nations are in Madrid to finalize the rule book for the 2015 Paris agreement, which aims to limit global temperature rises to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).

The accord takes force next year, and it had been hoped COP 25 would show the world that governments had listened to the weekly protests, irrefutable science and more extreme weather events and redoubled their efforts.

Yet the key issue of ambition — how far each country is willing to slash carbon emissions or assist less wealthy peers to do likewise — has largely failed to materialize.

Veteran observers of U.N. climate talks were stunned by the state of play.

And youth activists, who held several protests during the summit, called out governments for dragging their feet.

Alexandria Villasenor, a 14-year-old climate activist, said she was disappointed by the lack of action at COP 25.

“The difference between the youth on the streets and the negotiations is that the youth on the streets are acting with urgency,” she said. “COP 25 has failed us and it’s another year of failure.”The push for a strengthening of voluntary carbon-cutting plans is led by island and least-developed states, along with the European Union. These have called out nations that they see as blocking consensus for all countries to step up — notably the United States, Australia and Saudi Arabia.

China and India, the world’s No. 1 and No. 4 carbon emitters, have made it clear they see no need to improve on their current emissions-reduction plans, which run to 2030. These emerging giants have chosen instead to emphasize the historical responsibility of rich nations to lead the way and provide financing to poor countries.

“It seems like it’s inching along, but it’s not the strong call for climate ambition that we needed to come out of this,” said Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada. “It will be a pretty mediocre outcome.”

The COP 25 summit was also meant to finalize a chapter on carbon markets in the Paris rule book.

Some nations, notably Brazil and Australia, want to count carbon credits accumulated under a previous climate deal as part of their commitments under the Paris goals.

Discussions over markets were at an impasse Sunday, and the issue is likely to be handed over to next year’s COP 26 in Glasgow.

The U.S., which is leaving the Paris deal next year, was accused of playing spoiler on a number of issues vital to climate-vulnerable nations. This included “loss and damage” funding to help disaster-hit countries repair and rebuild.

“The U.S. has not come here in good faith,” said Harjeet Singh, climate lead with charity ActionAid. “They continue to block the world’s efforts to help people whose lives have been turned upside down by climate change.”

Even if nations in Madrid snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and agree to implement their pledges on paper, Earth is on course to warm more than 3 C by 2100.

At a gathering on the sidelines of the climate conference on Saturday, the “Peoples’ Closing Plenary,” advocates for groups including women, youths, workers and people with disabilities said the summit had “failed the people and the planet” and called for “climate justice” instead of an outcome tilted toward the interests of powerful polluters.

Speakers criticized the reluctance of wealthy governments to provide financial support for people left hungry, water-short and homeless by worsening extreme weather and rising seas.

And some decried plans to expand carbon emissions trading markets to include forests without guarantees the programs would reduce emissions or protect local people’s rights.

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he had attended the climate negotiations since they first started in 1991.

“But never have I seen the almost total disconnect we’ve seen here at COP 25 in Madrid between what the science requires and the people of the world demand, and what the climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful action,” he said. “The planet is on fire, and our window of escape is getting harder and harder to reach the longer we wait to act.”

Outside the talks, supporters of the international direct action group Extinction Rebellion stood on 12 blocks of ice with nooses around their necks to symbolize the disappearing time left to “change the trajectory and truly face the reality of the planetary climate and ecological emergency,” the group said.

There is a “need to come together now and think bigger” in the run-up to next year’s U.N. summit in Glasgow, Scotland, it added.

On Saturday morning, Colombia’s Vice Minister for Multilateral Affairs Adriana Mejia Hernandez told the U.N. conference that a weak outcome from the Madrid talks would be “unacceptable for millions of people around the world asking for ambitious action.”

Her words echoed similar calls by Chile and Spain.

Speaking for young people at the people’s assembly, Jorge Martinez of Mexico said millions of people were striking on the streets “not because they want to, but because they are terrified of their future and the future of our planet.”

Younger generations will continue to fight for a safer, cleaner world, he said, even if governments failed to step up enough to keep dangerous warming in check.

“We will never accept the destruction you are bringing as inevitable,” he added.

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