COP 25

My name is Sofia and I am a senior majoring in Geology & Geophysics and Global Affairs.  This December I’m attending COP25, the annual conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (last year, I attended COP24). 

Monday 9 December

I arrived in Madrid for the beginning of the second week of COP25.  COP25 was previously slated to be held in Santiago, but after political unrest in Chile was relocated to Madrid.  Chilean activists reminded attendees that climate change is inseparable from issues of social inequality, as the warming caused by a small and wealthy fraction of the global population impacts poor people most severely. 

One of the main agenda items for COP25 is to negotiate a system of rules for greenhouse gas emissions trading among countries and the private sector, as defined by Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.  Also at stake are compensation for loss and damage caused by climate change, and the time frame in which countries are to implement their commitments under the Paris Agreement.    

Tuesday 10 December

Using her personal celebrity and the public interest generated by the Fridays for Future movement, Greta Thunberg attracted a large crowd and many members of the media to a panel discussion where she spoke very little.  The event was intended to provide a platform for climate scientists to speak about science.  Vice-chairs of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and representatives of research institutions communicated key points about the physical science of climate change to the public, and debunked basic misperceptions about the magnitude and scale of climate change.  For example: if the temperature in Madrid is increasing by 10 degrees just today, why is average warming of just one or two degrees so impactful?   

Contextualizing current warming in historical changes is a particulalry useful tactic for communicating to a broad audience.   During the last ice age, when the Earth was only 5° colder, the surface of the planet looked drastically different.  A business-as usual emissions scenario could bring about similar magnitudes of change on a warming planet.   

Wednesday 11 December

Today, IPCC Vice Chair Thelma Krug discussed different modes of engagement with the IPCC.  In addition to contributing to the scientific literature, scientists and social scientists can serve as lead authors, contributing authors, and review editors to IPCC reports.  Dr. Krug encouraged scientists at all stages of their careers to review report drafts, as the process of creating IPCC reports requires authors to respond individually to each comment (this process is open and can be accessed on the IPCC’s website). 

IPCC representatives also emphasized their efforts towards more balanced representation with regard to gender balance and geographical representation.  Geographically, one challenge is that the pace of production of peer-reviewed publications in developed countries is much faster than in developing countries.  Much of the knowledge produced in developing countries is not captured in peer-reviewed literature, so the IPCC has established processes to account for ‘grey literature.’  Gender balance among IPCC authors has improved but still skews around 2/3 male. 

Negotiations have been making slow progress, with a few countries stalling agreement on much of the text relating to international carbon markets and compensation for loss and damage.  Indigenous leaders and youth protested within the COP venue today, drawing attention to the enormous apparent disconnect between the urgency of climate action and negotiations’ sluggish progress and lack of ambition thus far.  Many were forcibly removed from the venue. 

Thursday 12 December

For the first time, there was a pavilion dedicated to the cryosphere at the COP.  The International Cryosphere Climate Initiative hosted a series of side events highlighting the effects of climate change on the cryosphere, which are faster and more drastic than on other parts of the Earth.  Today, “Cryosphere 1.5 Report” was released, which combined the results of the IPCC’s Special Reports on Global Warming of 1.5°C and on the Ocean and Cryosphere.  It emphasized stark changes in the cryosphere that occur between 1.5° and 2° of warming.  For example, by 2° of warming or less, the report predicts that no ice will remain on midlatitude glaciers, carbon emissions from permafrost will be about equal to those of the European Union, and the Arctic will experience ice-free summers.  Cryosphere science reveals tipping points that will make it extremely difficult for humanity to adapt to warming scenarios exceeding 1.5 or 2°.

Friday 13 December

The texts under negotiation are stuck on two major issues:

1. Article 6.  This article of the Paris Agreement agrees to establish a mechanism for emissions trading between public and private entities.  Many countries and civil society groups support a deal that prevents double counting of emissions credits, prohibits the carryover of credits from the Kyoto Protocol, and includes social and environmental safeguards that include language on human rights.  Without these elements, Article 6 might easily lack environmental integrity, fail to increase emissions reductions, and harm local communities.

2. Loss and Damage.  COP25 was expected to strengthen the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage, which is supposed to address loss and damage caused by climate change through finance, technology, and capacity building.  However, the United States’ refusal to agree to developing countries’ demands has stalled progress on this topic. 

Saturday 14 December

COP25 is running overtime, still without agreement. 

Sunday 15 December

Carolina Schmidt, Chile’s environment minister and president of COP25, announced that the talks would conclude with a lack of progress on the issue of loss and damage and no agreement on Article 6.  Resolution of these problems will be delayed another year, to COP26 in Glasgow.  Unfortunately the gap between countries’ ambition under the UNFCCC, and the action demanded by climate science and worldwide activism, seems larger than ever.