Reporters on the ground described two weeks of stalemated United Nations climate negotiations limping to a close, a diplomat branded the United States a “climate criminal” for its stance on the crucial issue of loss and damage, and the hundreds of youth, Indigenous, and other community representatives onsite talked about the grassroot action back home that will continue to spur faster, more ambitious climate action, as COP 25 entered its final hours in Madrid.
The talks entered their final scheduled day earlier today “with divisions emerging between major emitting countries and small island states,” the BBC reports. “Serious disagreements have emerged over how much carbon-cutting the major emitters should undertake,” and “the conference has become enmeshed in deep, technical arguments about a number of issues, including the role of carbon markets and the financing of loss and damage caused by rising temperatures.”
UN Secretary General António Guterres warned a failed COP process would turn the climate crisis into the “survival of the richest”, The Associated Press states.
Youth activists called for a global strike day today, to protest two weeks of negotiations in which human rights and social justice issues were sidelined. “Campaigners have been frustrated not only at the slow progress of the talks but also that groups representing women, Indigenous people, and poor people have struggled to have their voices heard within the conference halls where the official negotiations are taking place, even while 500,000 people took part in a mass protest in the streets outside last Friday,” The Guardian writes.
#FridaysForFuture declared the negotiating process “has failed us. On 13 December, local Fridays for Future groups will strike because the outcomes of COP are not only insufficient, but a painful image of how little the politicians care about the planet.”
The group added: “We stand in solidarity with Indigenous people, people from the global south, and people already suffering from the climate crises.”
“Human rights and gender equity are at the heart of what we are talking about on the climate,” said Mary Robinson, former UN high commissioner for human rights and president of Ireland. “This is about people and people’s livelihoods. Gender and social justice have an enormous impact on what people face from climate [breakdown]. If we don’t have these issues included we are going to make enormous mistakes.”
But some COP observers seemed happy enough with the outcome. “While protesters were pondering how best to make their point as the Friday evening deadline for the negotiations approached, the conference halls were still thronging with business executives and representatives of corporate groups, many hosting receptions, cocktails, and dinners for financial backers, institutions, and government officials,” The Guardian writes.
[From the coverage, it wasn’t clear what proportion of those businesses were the investors or green technology providers who’ve been committing to faster, deeper carbon cuts and pressing governments to do the same. But there was no doubt that fossil interests are still by far the dominant corporate voice.—Ed.]
“They are inside government writing the rules, like the fossil fuel industry,” Greenpeace International Executive Director and COP veteran Jennifer Morgan said of the business representatives following the meeting. “They can afford to run these big advertisements and have these meetings. Inside the conference, there is a sense of business-as-usual—that if we tweak things at the edges, we will be fine. But it’s not true. If we want system change, which is what we need, that is not going to come from inside—it can only come from outside.”
Morgan added that “I have never seen the divide between what is happening between the inside of these walls and the outside so large.”
But Climate Reality Project founder and former U.S. vice-president Al Gore disputed the conclusion that free-market-based economics can’t solve the global crisis it has triggered. “We need reforms, there is no question about that,” he told The Guardian. “But alternatives to capitalism were characterized by environmental abuses in the 20th century. I think the answer is reform, and not the discarding of capitalism.”
The UN reported that 84 countries had promised to file new, improved climate commitments under the Paris Agreement by the time delegates convene for another round of [head-bashing] [deep, constructive, and mutually respectful] [negotiations] in Glasgow next year, and 73, including Canada, committed to set net-zero emissions targets for mid-century.
But in what veteran BBC environment correspondent Matt McGrath calls a rare move, “negotiators from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) pointed the finger of blame at countries including Australia, the United States, Canada, Russia, India, China, and Brazil,” noting that “they had failed to submit revised plans that would help the world keep the rise in global temperatures under 1.5°C this century. As well as naming names, AOSIS members were angry at the pressure being put on the island nations to compromise on key questions.”
“We are appalled at the state of negotiations—at this stage we are being cornered, we fear having to concede on too many issues that would undermine the very integrity of the Paris Agreement,” said AOSIS Chief Negotiator Carlos Fuller. “What’s before us is a level of compromise so profound that it underscores a lack of ambition, seriousness about the climate emergency and the urgent need to secure the fate of our islands.”
As well, the developing world’s chronic inaction on emission reductions is coming home to roost, with divisions meant to have been put to rest in Paris now re-emerging. With support from China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil, India is insisting the world’s richest countries keep the promises they made before 2015, when the Paris deal was reached. “The Paris Agreement talks about the leadership of the developed countries, it talks about the peaking of greenhouse gases earlier in these countries, so we need to see these things,” said India chief negotiator Ravi Shankar Prasad. “You have to honour what you agreed.”
“Frankly, I’m tired of hearing major emitters excuse inaction in cutting their own emissions on the basis they are ‘just a fraction’ of the world’s total,” said Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who chaired COP 23 negotiations in Bonn, Germany in 2017. “The truth is, in a family of nearly 200 nations, collective efforts are key. We all must take responsibility for ourselves, and we all must play our part to achieve net zero.”
Bainimarama added: “As I like to say, we’re all in the same canoe. But currently, that canoe is taking on water with nearly 200 holes—and there are too few of us trying to patch them.”
On the key issue of “ambition”—the process leading into 2020 where countries had agreed to commit to more aggressive climate action—Climate Home News has a detailed account of the negotiations around the diplomatic text that will either drive or undercut that action. “Submitting a climate plan is not good enough, it must be on a 1.5°C pathway,” said Sonam Phuntsho Wangdi of Bhutan, chair of the Least Developed Countries group. “Ambition has to be reflected in new climate plans, otherwise it has no meaning.”
Former United States secretary of state John Kerry pointed to the absence of U.S. leadership as a major obstacle to progress. “It’s very difficult to get this done if the United States of America isn’t there,” he said. With U.S. elections scheduled for November 3, 2020, “I think Glasgow is already more of a target in many people’s minds here, and that handicaps the process slightly.”
COP is scheduled for November 9 to 19 in Glasgow.
BuzzFeed News cited the U.S. as the “villain at the UN climate summit”, pointing to the country’s bid to permanently avoid liability for the unavoidable loss and damage caused by climate impacts in the world’s most vulnerable countries. Even though it is scheduled to quit the Paris Agreement next November 4—the day after the country’s next presidential election—“the U.S. is allegedly trying to blow up one of the top priorities the world’s poorest nations are working to achieve at the meeting: a mechanism for developing nations hurt by climate change to seek compensation from the wealthy nations that emitted the largest share of greenhouse gases,” the U.S.-based news website writes.
Buzzfeed has the full text of the U.S. proposal.
“The obfuscating and delaying tactics of the U.S., in particular, are designed to ensure we get nothing,” said Guinean diplomat Alpha Oumar Kaloga, a member of the executive committee for the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) on loss and damage. “Other rich countries —the EU, Norway, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada—must stand apart from the U.S. It is not acceptable to hide behind this climate criminal.”
“The U.S. is using its last chance to cover its ass,” said Corporate Accountability press secretary Taylor Billings. “The U.S. is seeking to protect itself, other polluting countries, and potentially even the corporations based there, from having to pay for the loss and damage they have caused.”
ActionAid climate lead Harjeet Singh told BuzzFeed News developing nations had come to COP 25 “expecting to see something very concrete on how people facing the climate emergency can be helped,” but “the reality is that nothing concrete is happening.”
Earlier in the week, about 200 community delegates and observers were thrown out of the conference centre after staging an impromptu sit-in that blocked access to one of the negotiating rooms, BBC writes. The protesters said they were “pushed, bullied, and touched without consent,” and they were temporarily barred from the talks until the UN climate secretariat and various civil society “constituencies” could negotiate their re-entry.
It was the third time in less than two weeks that the secretariat’s apparent efforts to obstruct community voices at the COP became a distraction from crucial, high-stakes climate negotiations. In the midst of the crisis, all registered observers were banned from the hall, whether or not they had been involved in the protests, one call went out for emergency blankets for banned participants who’d been summarily tossed out of the building, and those same participants had to depend on colleagues to retrieve their belongings from inside.
All of which flew in the face of the central importance of non-profit researchers, analysts, advocates, and protesters in the COP process. “Observers play an important role in the talks, representing civil society,” BBC explains. “They are allowed to sit in on negotiations and have access to negotiators on condition that they do not reveal the contents of those discussions.”
But on this day, “as the group banged pots and pans and chanted slogans, UN security staff intervened to move the protesters outside ‘abruptly and roughly,’ from the building,” and about 200 had their conference badges confiscated.
“It’s displeasing that young people here to peacefully make the case for strong action on climate change are being kettled and kicked out of the summit, so that the UN climate process can conclude an outcome that will seemingly be weak and doesn’t protect their future,” said Christian Aid youth climate leader Julius Mbatia.
#FridaysForFuture member Angela Valenzuela, one of the protesters involved, told The Guardian the moment illustrated the treatment of women, Indigenous people, and workers in a COP process dominated by government officials and corporate vested interests. “The doors closed in our faces were a very powerful metaphor for what is happening here and what has happened for the last 25 years,” she said.
The 29 organizations in the COP’s Women and Gender Constituency “drew parallels between what they said was ‘excessive force and shoving’ used by police to eject protesters from the vast conference halls on the outskirts of Madrid, and the risks and violence environmental defenders face,” The Guardian adds.
“We want to highlight that women environmental rights defenders continue to be on the front lines to save the planet, especially Indigenous, black, and those from the global south, and yet are harassed, threatened, and persecuted by those in authority in their own countries and elsewhere.”
“We represent areas [such as forests] that absorb carbon,” said Ta’Kaiya Blaney, of the Tla’amin Nation in Canada. “Women of colour are often the most impacted, and we are requesting that these issues such as gender and human rights are raised here. Too often, we are on the receiving end of violence at home.”