Marathon UN climate talks in Madrid fail to achieve progress

Chile's environment minister and COP25 president Carolina Schmidt speaking at the United Nations climate conference in Madrid on Dec 15, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS
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MADRID (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ASSOCIATED PRESS, REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST) - A marathon United Nations summit wrapped up on Sunday (Dec 15) with little to show, squeezing hard-earned compromises from countries over a global warming battle plan that fell well short of what science says is needed to tackle the climate crisis.

The COP25 talks ground to a delayed close, with major polluters resisting calls to ramp up efforts to combat global warming and negotiators postponing the regulation of carbon markets until next year.

The Madrid summit comes in a year of deadly extreme weather and weekly strikes by millions of young people demanding action. It was viewed as a test of governments' collective will to heed the advice of scientists to cut greenhouse gas emissions more rapidly to prevent rising global temperatures from hitting irreversible tipping points.

But the final declaration only called on the "urgent need" to cut planet-heating greenhouse gases in line with the goals of the landmark 2015 Paris climate change accord.

That fell far short of promising to enhance countries' pledges to cut planet-heating greenhouse gases next year, which developing countries and environmentalists had lobbied the delegates to achieve.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed his disappointment, saying in a statement: "The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the crisis."

Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli noted in a Facebook post on Sunday that the talks had ended "with mixed results".

"But we must not lose hope," wrote the minister, who was invited to be a co-facilitator with his Spanish counterpart Teresa Ribera Rodriguez on the summit's overarching decision texts.

Mr Masagos said he was pleased that the overarching decisions were successfully adopted. "With this, we will keep the drive to address climate change alive and take up new areas of concern like the ocean and its climate impact," he said.

Many developing countries and campaigners had hoped for 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 led resistance to bolder action, delegates said.

"COP25 demonstrated the collective ambition fatigue of the world's largest (greenhouse gas) emitters," said Greenpeace East Asia policy adviser Li Shuo.

Countries already hard hit by climate change argued that large emitters continue to dawdle.

"This is an absolute tragedy and a travesty," Mr Ian Fry, the representative from Tuvalu, told fellow negotiators, specifically pointing to the US for playing a destructive role in the talks.

This year's meeting broke the record for longest UN climate talks. Delegates from nearly 200 nations wrestled for more than 40 hours past their planned deadline, even as workers broke down parts of the sprawling conference hall, and all but the most essential negotiators went home.

Disputes broke out over the rules that should govern international carbon trading, favoured by wealthier countries to reduce the cost of cutting emissions. Brazil and Australia were among the main holdouts, delegates said, and the summit deferred big decisions on carbon markets to next year's summit in Glasgow.

"It's sad that we couldn't reach a final agreement" on carbon markets, admitted summit chairman Carolina Schmidt, Chile's environment minister. "We were on the verge."

Mr Masagos said that while the summit did not result in an overall consensus, its discussions have offered countries a better understanding of one another's positions.

"This places us in good stead as we work on moving forward," he said.

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