What was Achieved in the Latest UN Climate Talks?

A compromise deal was agreed in what were the longest United Nations climate talks on record. Weary delegates finally reached an agreement on the crucial question of increasing the global response to curbing carbon.

Governments at the UN climate talks in Madrid acknowledged the increasing urgency of the crisis with a partial admission that the current carbon cutting targets are too weak. However, there were few substantial plans made to strengthen them in line with the Paris agreement.

After two weeks of talks COP25’s executive leaders came to a formal recognition of the need to bridge the gap between greenhouse gas targets set in 2015 in Paris and scientific advice that says much deeper cuts are needed.

Scientists have warned that the current targets would put the world on track for 3C of warming, which would lead to coastal cities being devastated and agriculture being destroyed over large swathes of the globe. In order to avoid dangerous climate, change the gap between what the science says is necessary and the current situation needs to be addressed. If we continue as we are the world is set to go past this threshold in the 2030s.

Research published during the two weeks of talks showed that greenhouse gas emissions have risen 4% since the Paris accord was signed in 2015, and the world will need to cut carbon by more than 7% a year in the next decade to heed scientific advice.

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It was agreed that all countries will need to put new climate pledges on the table by the time of the next major conference in Glasgow next year, 2020. The two extra days and nights of negotiations led to a deal that will see new, improved carbon cutting plans by the time of the conference next year.

Even minor issues such as the role of carbon markets which are mechanisms by which countries can sell carbon credits, based on their emissions-cutting efforts and the financial assistance needed for poor countries to cope with the impacts of climate chaos were all put off until next year after agreement between delegates proved elusive.


This aspect of the deal was welcomed by campaigners.

Mohamed Adow, with the group Power Shift Africa said:

“Thankfully the weak rules on a market-based mechanism, promoted by Brazil and Australia, that would have undermined efforts to reduce emissions has been shelved and the fight on that can continue next year at COP26 in Glasgow,”

The push for higher ambition though supported by the European Union and small island states was opposed by a range of countries including the US, Brazil, India and China.

In the end a compromise was reached with the richer nations having to show that they have kept their promises on climate change in the years before 2020.

Only a few countries came up with new targets at these talks, but the hope is that next year there will be more. It is thought however that strong public and political pressure will be needed to achieve effective, new targets as the latest talks were characterised by bickering over technical details. Brazil, Australia, the US, China and other major emitters were all accused of holding up progress.

The EU came up with the strongest new plan, finally agreeing a bloc-wide goal of reaching net-zero carbon by 2050. Many of the smaller countries agreed similar long-term targets, but other major emitters held back.

The fact that next year’s big climate conference will be held in Glasgow puts enormous pressure on the UK Prime Minister. Environmentalists have warned him that he will be humiliated if he tries to lead other nations whilst the UK is still failing to meet its own medium-term climate targets.

Climate advisers in the UK have informed him that tens of millions of homes still need to be properly insulated while other experts have warned the Prime Minister that his plans to build £28.8bn of roads are not compatible with eliminating CO2 emissions. Added to that experts also say that even having fully electric cars won’t solve the problem completely and are urging the government to help people walk and cycle to benefit their health and the environment. Further to this any expansion in aviation will increase emissions. Currently, the US won’t discuss climate change in any trade deal made with the UK while the EU is putting a border tax on countries that don’t cut greenhouse gases. This puts the UK government in a difficult position.

Pleas from activists who staged a 500,000 strong march through Madrid made no difference to the tempo and strength of ambition of the talks. In fact, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish school striker, said the last year of protests had “achieved nothing” as countries were still failing to bring forward the measures needed.

Furious activists spoke out at UN COP25:

 “Stop taking up space with your false solutions.”

Many delegates who attended the climate conference were also unhappy with the deal, feeling it did not reflect the urgency of the science.

Spain’s acting Minister for the Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera said the mandate was clear.

“Countries have to present more ambitious NDCs (nationally determined contributions) in 2020 than what we have today because it is important to address science and the demands of people, as well as commit ourselves to do more and faster.”

in 2020 than what we have today because it is important to address science and the demands of people, as well as commit ourselves to do more and faster.”

Overall, negotiators were happy to have kept the process alive despite the rather difficult and complex talks in Madrid.

This conference was not expected to produce a significant breakthrough on new emissions targets. It was however hoped that a spirit of cooperation and a resolution to act would set the stage for higher ambition next year.

Chema Vera, the interim executive director of Oxfam International, said:

“The world is screaming out for action, but this summit responded with a whisper. The poorest nations are in a sprint for survival, yet many governments have barely moved from the starting blocks. Instead of committing to more ambitious cuts in emissions, countries have argued over technicalities.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was disappointed by the result:

“The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis.”

Laurence Tubiana from the European Climate Foundation, and an architect of the Paris agreement, described the result as “really a mixed bag, and a far cry from what science tells us is needed.”

“Major players who needed to deliver in Madrid did not live up to expectations, but thanks to a progressive alliance of small island states, European, African and Latin American countries, we obtained the best possible outcome, against the will of big polluters.”

Helen Mountford, a vice-president for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute, said:

“These talks reflect how disconnected country leaders are from the urgency of the science and the demands of their citizens in the street. The can-do spirit that birthed the Paris agreement feels like a distant memory today. Instead of leading the charge for greater ambition, most major emitters have been missing in action.”

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), The world is now nearly one degree Celsius warmer than it was before widespread industrialisation. The 20 warmest years on record have all occurred in the past 22 years, with the years from 2015-2018 making up the top four.

Temperatures could rise by 3-5c by the end of this century according to the WMO. It has long been believed that a threshold of 2C is the gateway to dangerous warming. In recent times scientists and policy makers have argued that keeping temperature rise to within 1.5C is a safer limit for the world. However, an IPPC report in 2018 advised that keeping to the 1.5C target would actually require  “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

The conference saw widespread recognition that long-term targets are not enough, and the pressure is now on to forge a short-term climate plan for the next 10 years.

Katherine Kramer, the global climate lead at Christian Aid said:

“The UK now has a gargantuan task of overseeing a successful climate summit in Glasgow next year. That meeting is supposed to be the moment the world responds to the climate crisis by strengthening the pledges made in the Paris agreement. To avoid failure, the UK will need to put its own house in order, in creating and implementing policies to rapidly reduce its own emissions.”