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COP25 Ends With a Whimper: A Few Takeaways

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Patricia Espinosa, the executive secretary of the UNFCCC, and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres during Guterres' speech at COP25 on Dec. 11, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. Jesus Hellin / Europa Press via Getty Images

The longest UN climate meeting in history extended two extra days for a marathon bargaining session, but ended early Sunday morning with little accomplished. Policy makers mostly decided to punt strengthening their commitments to lower emissions and to a market for carbon emissions, until COP26 in Glasgow next December, the AP reported.


Protestors denounced polluting nations for sacrificing the health of future generations. Policy makers shirked the calls from demonstrators, youths and scientists who said the only way to skirt a global catastrophe is a drastic and coordinated reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, as CNN reported.

The UN secretary general tweeted his frustration early yesterday morning. "I am disappointed with the results of #COP25," wrote António Guterres. "The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis. But we must not give up, and I will not give up."

His disappointment was echoed by other conference leaders, including Chilean environment minister and conference president, Carolina Schmidt, who said, "The consensus is still not there to increase ambition to the levels that we need. Before finishing I want to make a clear and strong call to the world to strengthen political will and accelerate climate action to the speed that the world needs. The new generations expect more from us," as the BBC reported.

And Alden Meyer, a policy expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, "Never have I seen such a disconnect between what the science requires and what the climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful action. Most of the world's biggest emitting countries are missing in action and resisting calls to raise their ambition," as the BBC reported.

Here are a few takeaways from the conference:

Carbon Emitters and Fossil Fuels Prevailed

The U.S. and several other prominent polluters blocked a voluntary measure that would have set more ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions next year, as The New York Times reported. Rather than seek consensus and show generosity on the world stage, the Trump administration pushed back against an agreement that would compensate the world's poorest and most vulnerable countries for climate-crisis induced extreme weather, including storms, droughts, floods and rising seas, according to The New York Times.

The U.S. was not alone in obstructing progress. Brazil and Australia were also identified as main culprits in blocking action, along with Saudi Arabia and Russia. China and India also resisted improving their carbon emissions goals.

"Most of the large emitters were missing in action or obstructive," said Helen Mountford, a vice president at World Resources Institute, as The New York Times reported. "This reflects how disconnected many national leaders are from the urgency of the science and the demands of their citizens."

Activists Are Angry Over Inaction

Toward the beginning of COP25, nearly 500,000 protestors took to the streets of Madrid to demand action on the conference's first Friday. The protest coincided with a Fridays for Future protest and was led by the face of the movement, Greta Thunberg, who reminded the crowd, "The change we need is not going to come from people in power," said Thunberg to the the crowds, as the BBC reported. "The change is going to come from the people, the masses, demanding change."

Protestors continued to march on the streets throughout the conference and Extinction Rebellion blocked roads and camped out by the conference hall, demanding protections for indigenous people in Brazil's rainforest, as Vox reported. That same day protestors from Latin and North America held an impromptu protest, blocking the gates of the main hall, as the AP reported.

Youth protestors took over the stage on Wednesday, as the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program tweeted. Then protestors took over the hall in the waning moments of the conference

When Thunberg and other youth activists from around the globe addressed the conference the following, they had grown impatient with the inaction the nearly two-week conference had netted.

"Finding holistic solutions is what the COP should be all about, but instead it seems to have turned into some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition," Thunberg told conference members, as Vox reported. Several activists, including Hilda Flavia Nakabuye, joined Thunberg on the dais. Nakabuye accused the representatives of failing her generation as they have negotiated in vain for the last 25 years.

"So I've been taking part in these COPs for 25 years, and I've never seen the divide between what's happening on the inside of these walls and what's happening on the outside so large," said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace, according to Vox.

Brazil Is the Big Loser

The winner of the ignominious Colossal Fossil award was Brazil. The satirical award for the worst climate offender is given out by the activist group Climate Action Network, which cited Brazil for "destroying the climate concretely on the ground and in the negotiations, attacking and killing the very people who are protecting unique ecosystems: indigenous people," Climate Action Network wrote.

The U.S. took home several Fossil of the Day awards for its refusal to help vulnerable populations and its refusal to accept the science around the climate crisis. Russia, Australia and Japan also won a few for their addiction to fossil fuels, especially coal, which they all refused to speak against.

Bad Timing

The conference fell at an awkward time for many countries. The U.S. is in the midst of impeachment hearings. China, Chile and France are all facing domestic unrest that threatens to undermine their climate priorities. Parts of Australia are crippled by brushfires and water shortages. And the UK went through a general election during the COP25 conference.

A European Bright Spot

At the opening of the conference, Spain's prime minister derided climate deniers and called for Europe to lead the way in fighting the climate crisis.

"If Europe led the industrial revolution, Europe must lead the decarbonization [effort]. At a moment marked by the silence of some, Europe has a lot to say," said Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, at the start of the conference, as El Pais reported. "The battle against climate change requires moving from words into action."

Back in Brussels, the EU commission laid the groundwork for the world's largest economic bloc, the European Union, to be carbon-neutral by 2050 with a massive overhaul of infrastructure and the economy, as EcoWatch reported.

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