Written by: Allison Lee
The COP25 annual gathering (2019 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) officially commenced on December 2 in Madrid, Spain. The twelve-day conference consisted of over 25,000 delegates from about 200 countries and aimed to solidify plans for limiting emissions and preventing global warming.
Organizing the conference was no easy feat. COP25 was initially scheduled to occur in Brazil, but was moved to Santiago, Chile after Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro was elected last January. This was largely due to the criticism toward the president for his policies regarding the Amazon region. The mass protests in Chile caused the conference to be moved once again to Spain.
This year’s conference was particularly important as the danger of climate change issues are at an all-time high. This critical state was emphasized by the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres in his statement that the climate crisis is nearing the “point of no return.” This statement is no exaggeration. Recent data shows that the world is now 1.1 degrees warmer than it was at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This seemingly small difference has been the cause of catastrophes worldwide. From the melting ice sheets in Greenland to the unruly wildfires in Australia, scientists have repeatedly confirmed that climate change is a worldwide crisis.
Although scientists continues to confirm this crisis, very few preventative measures have been taken. 187 participating nations have ratified a series of protocols proposed at the COP21 to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. The current situation requires that emissions decrease by 7.6% every year for the next ten years. This agreement was a groundbreaking progression in climate change progression as it was the first true agreement reached in over 20 years of conferences.
Unfortunately, statistics show that the vast majority of nations are failing to meet the expectations set in COP21. A United Nations analysis regarding pledges to reduce emissions between 2020 and 2030 stated that “almost 75% of the climate pledges are partially or totally insufficient to contribute to reducing GHG emissions by 50% by 2030, and some of these pledges are unlikely to be achieved.” Since the agreements are currently voluntary, failure to uphold them yields little to no political consequence. For example, President Trump confirmed his intentions of withdrawing from the conference by not sending any senior members of his administration to the conference. Further, Russia failed to submit any proposal for reducing emissions. The lack of political action by countries that are major sources of emissions is reversing any progress that was previously achieved.
In light of the urgent conditions outlined in these reports, the COP25 meeting aimed to increase the requirements of nations to cut emissions. 2020 is set to be the most important year for climate change action. As such, it is crucial that all countries, especially those with high emissions rates, act quickly to establish prevention methods. At the conference, it was expected that each participating country would submit its plans for cutting emissions within the upcoming year. Although difficult, the steps that must occur are fairly straightforward.
There are many steps that each country should take immediately. First and foremost, use of fossil fuels must be halted and replaced with sources of renewable energy. Factory farming must be ceased because the methane released from many animals, cows in particular, is a main contributor to the release of greenhouse gases. Also, research must be funded to develop strategies to reverse the damage that has already been done. Finally, it is crucial that laws are created to hold nations accountable for their impact on the environment. Without these laws, as shown in recent data, many countries will refuse to enforce these changes.
Although it is necessary that laws are put in place to create a system to lower emissions rates, it has proven extremely difficult to do effectively. Article Six of the Paris Agreement, which proposed international carbon trading, was a major topic of discussion in the conference. This system would allow for the countries that cut emissions to sell their excess allotted credits to countries that are major producers of emissions, essentially placing a monetary value on carbon. This system was discussed thoroughly at the previous conference but no final decision was reached.
International carbon trading was a major point of contention at COP25. The goal was to finalize a binding deal between countries that would allow for the system to function. However, the discussions soon became centered around financial debates concerning the levels of emissions allowed by each country. For example, representatives from Brazil, where the Amazon functions as a “carbon sink,” stated that they were entitled to more emissions credits. Because of arguments like this, COP25 consisted of little to nothing aside from the continuing financial debates. With the rising threat of climate change, it was essential that the outcome of COP25 set plans in motion and organized an effective system for combating its effects, yet none of this was accomplished.
The time for political conflict has passed. Politicians must put their personal agendas aside and realize that if extreme action is not taken, the Earth will suffer the consequences. Climate change is officially a global calamity that threatens the world as we know it. As stated by Ian Vale from Save the Children, “The climate crisis is happening here, and it’s killing people, forcing them from their homes and ruining children’s chance of a future.”