Political heat is on for 2020 climate deadline after lukewarm Madrid talks

Britain faces political heavy-lifting to make a success of next year's make-or-break summit in Scotland, analysts warn.

glasgow scotland cop26
The Necropolis in Glasgow, Scotland. Next year's climate conference in the port city is regarded as crucial to retain a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, the lower goal set in the 2015 Paris accord. Image: GCampbellHall, CC BY-SA 2.0

The unwillingness of some big carbon-emitting countries to clean up their act at this month’s U.N. climate talks suggests Britain faces political heavy-lifting to make a success of next year’s make-or-break summit in Scotland, analysts have warned.

The November conference, to be held in Glasgow with the backing of Italy, is regarded as crucial to retain a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, the lower goal set in the 2015 Paris accord.

Acrimonious talks in Madrid, which ended two days late on Sunday, were meant to send a clear international signal that countries would deliver stronger climate action plans next year to cut their planet-warming emissions further and faster.

But many of the world’s heavyweight economies - from the United States, Australia and Brazil to India, China and Japan - refused to join efforts to present an ambitious united front.

Laurence Tubiana, an architect of the Paris deal and France’s former climate ambassador, said the Madrid negotiations had achieved only “the minimum outcome needed to go into 2020 - the year when climate action counts”.

“Major players who needed to deliver in Madrid did not live up to expectations,” said Tubiana, now CEO of the European Climate Foundation.

“But thanks to a progressive alliance of small island states, European, African and Latin American countries, we obtained the best possible outcome” in the circumstances, she added in a statement.

After language interpreted by climate experts as weaker than the Paris Agreement was rejected, governments adopted a conclusion reiterating a request for updated climate plans next year.

We will pull no punches next year in getting clarity and certainty for natural carbon markets.

Claire Perry O’Neill, former British energy minister

It said the new versions should be “a progression” and reflect countries’ “highest possible ambition”.

The Madrid text also emphasised the “urgent” need to close the gap between current pledges to reduce emissions and what is required to keep the increase in global average temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and ideally to 1.5C.

The world has already heated up by about 1C, and is set to warm by at least 3C, which scientists have warned would bring more severe weather disasters and catastrophic sea level rise.

There is no legal obligation for all countries to submit improved climate action plans by the end of next year.

But if that does not happen, the next deadline for ambition-raising in national plans is 2025, hiking the chances of smashing through the 1.5C ceiling as early as 2030, scientists say.

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, blamed resistance by large emitters for the lack of a “clarion call to action” in Madrid on reining in emissions and providing finance for poorer countries to tackle climate change.

“If this stance doesn’t change between now and next year’s climate summit in Glasgow,” the task of meeting the 1.5-2C warming goal would become “almost impossible”, he added.

Madrid ‘lessons’ 

Shane Tomlinson, deputy CEO of E3G, a London-based think tank on low-carbon economies, said the diplomatic struggles witnessed in the last two weeks showed how important it was to “manage the geopolitics” affecting climate change efforts.

“There are lessons the UK government needs to learn from what happened (in Madrid) over the next year to have a more successful outcome in Glasgow,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Those lessons included the need to reach out to key countries like China and India to enlist them in a reinforced global drive to cut emissions, and to build trust among those that felt let down this time, especially African and other climate-vulnerable nations, he said.

Claire Perry O’Neill, a former British energy minister leading work on the 2020 summit for the UK’s Conservative government, said on Twitter that “any shortcomings” from Madrid would “just make us all double down on our work to deliver in Glasgow”.

On failed efforts in Madrid to create new rules for carbon markets, Perry noted it was better governments had pushed the negotiations into 2020 rather than opt for a “bad deal”.

“We will pull no punches next year in getting clarity and certainty for natural carbon markets,” she added in a tweet.

Carbon markets allow governments, companies and other entities to earn, sell and buy credits for tonnes of avoided, reduced or stored emissions.

At the weekend, more than 30 countries signed up to a set of principles which they said “constitute the basis upon which a fair and robust carbon market should be built”.

Their aim is to make sure carbon trading helps to lower global emissions and generates funding through a levy on its transactions to aid poorer countries in adapting to climate impacts.

E3G’s Tomlinson pointed to political risks that may affect the Glasgow talks next year, including Britain’s planned exit from the European Union, which could serve as a “distraction”.

Global interest in the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in early November, meanwhile - close to the start of the talks - could also push governments to delay revealing new climate action plans until they get a sense of whether the White House will get a “pro-climate president”, he added.

In Madrid, the administration of climate-change sceptic U.S. President Donald Trump was widely viewed as having hampered progress towards implementing the Paris accord - from which it plans to exit.

Jonathan Pershing, former U.S. special envoy for climate change, said the U.N. conference outcome demonstrated “how far we have to go in our collective effort to address climate change”, despite a growing push by young people, business and some countries to move ahead.

“All governments will need to step up,” he said in a statement.

“Next year in Glasgow, we must see real political change, and ambitious plans and national commitments commensurate with the challenge.”

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate.


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