Global efforts to tackle climate change have stalled due to a lack of ambition, the UN Secretary General has said, as the COP25 conference in Madrid drew to a close with a watered-down agreement.
“The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition,” said Antonio Guterres. “But we must not give up, and I will not give up.“
The 197 parties to the UN talks agreed to the need for new emissions cuts on Sunday morning after negotiators worked through the night.
But they stopped short of concrete commitments and left the outstanding issues of the Paris Agreement undecided.
“The result of this COP25 is really a mixed bag, and a far cry from what science tells us is needed,” said Laurence Tubiana, one of the architects of the 2015 agreement and the CEO of the European Climate Foundation.
Brazil, Australia and the United States were singled out for their refusal to compromise on their own emissions targets.
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The lack of progress in Madrid sets up the UK for a difficult diplomatic challenge in November when it will host the next COP in Glasgow, at a time when the government will be focused on resolving the next stage of Brexit.
The European Union had led a coalition of countries at the talks who were calling for greater commitments and pushing back on compromises over carbon trading – the remaining unsolved aspect of the Paris Agreement.
Brazil in particular had led a push to “double count” its carbon emissions cuts, selling credits to other countries while also counting them towards its own targets.
Frans Timmermans, the European Commission climate chief, had earlier in the week told the conference that “no deal was better than a bad deal” when it came to carbon markets.
In the wake of the US withdrawal from the Paris agreement, the EU is under pressure to fill the diplomatic vacuum. Perhaps the most important moment during the two-week talks came in Brussels this week, when the commission launched its Green New Deal plan to cut EU carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.
“COP25 was above all a failure of political will,” said Jennifer Tollmann, a policy adviser at environmental think tank E3G.
“From countries who felt this was an unimportant bump in the road en-route to Glasgow, and from a Presidency that in the face of opportunistic blockers (including US, Brazil, Australia and Saudi Arabia) defaulted to proposing a lowest common denominator outcome.”
The snail’s pace of the talks was in marked contrast to the alarm raised by activists and scientists and a growing global commitment to reducing emissions. Nearly 100 international businesses have so far signed up to a pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
In the days leading up to the agreement, new reports noted that global emissions have risen since 2015, and current warming is on track to lead to a 3 degree celsius increase in world temperature, an outcome scientists say would have devestating impact.
On Saturday night, as the talks reached record time, activists from Extinction Rebellion dumped manure outside the conference centre in a bid to express their frustration.
As talks appeared to unravel over the weekend Greta Thunberg, who this week was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, said “the science is clear, but the science is being ignored.”
The teenage activist apologised over the weekend for suggesting world leaders should be “put against a wall”, blaming the fact English is her second language.