Priorities for the 2019 Climate Summit

The climate emergency declared yesterday by the European Parliament could not have been more timely. The announcement comes just days before the start of the 2019 Climate Summit. A few months ago, a scientific report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC) was published, sending out a warning to not exceed the threshold of 1.5°C. The concern for climate change is more latent than ever, society needs to be more ambitious about making a change.

The climate conference is happening in Madrid, Spain and will go on for two weeks. It will bring together thousands of scientists, businessmen, institutional representatives (including heads of state and ministers), non-governmental organisations and governments from around the world.


What does COP mean?

The acronym COP refers to the Conference of the Parties, i.e. a convention of the countries that have signed up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This convention has been held continuously for 24 years. The first one took place in Berlin in 1995.

The importance of this convention is vital for our planet and human societies: the warnings of scientists are useless if there are no policies that can carry out measures to remedy the situations that threaten our lands, our ocean and all humanity. And all this is in grave danger if we do not drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

COP25 is especially vital, given that it is the last one before the arrival of the so-called Horizon 2020, i.e. the effective activation of the Paris Agreement of the COP21 of 2015, or the commitment not to exceed the threshold of 1.5 degrees, which must be active by January of the new year that is about to begin.

So what will be discussed at COP25? What are the priorities of the convention, on the eve of 2020? The World Resources Institute (WRI) has prepared a summary of the priorities for this summit:


1. Be more ambitious with the objectives of the Paris Agreement

Society is becoming increasingly aware of the climate emergency, and this leads to the need to be more ambitious. That is why 68 countries will present updated national climate commitments (known as NDCs) at this summit to be completed by 2020. It remains to be seen, first, that they will keep their promise, and that the rest of the countries will follow their example.

As detailed by the World Resources Institute (WRI), COP25 hopes to unify positions in energy, finance and environmental policies to direct action towards a low-carbon economy. Countries will be told when the next round of commitments will be, and when the UNFCCC will produce a report on measures that can help assess progress towards the Paris Accord targets.

2. Establishing rules for the carbon market

The use of international carbon markets was one of the outstanding issues at the COP24 in Poland. It was established in the Kyoto Protocol and consists of a limit of maximum rate of emission of polluting gases each country is permitted to produce. Some countries do not reach the minimum (they have excess emissions) and, so to speak, buy them from countries that exceed it. The problem is that this practice can paint a false picture of overall carbon cuts, because both the buyer and seller of carbon credits would claim the same emission reduction in their national registries.

Without proper oversight and strong rules, this could severely undermine climate action. Emission reductions prior to the 2020 target, those included under the Kyoto Protocol, could be counted towards countries' climate commitments after 2020, delaying and weakening emission reduction efforts.


3. Agreeing on a common timeframe

More duties not done at COP24: establish the length of the implementation period for countries' NDCs (climate commitments).

The initial NDCs presented in 2015 (COP21 of the Paris Agreement) covered different time frames, some from 2020 to 2025 and others from 2020 to 2030.

During the last summit, countries agreed to have a common timeframe for future rounds of climate commitments (for an implementation period starting in 2031), but could not agree on the exact length of this implementation period.

In Madrid, the objective is to agree on a common timeframe that requires all countries to implement their new NDCs during the period of 2031 to 2035, which is in line with the five-year ambition set out in the Paris Agreement. If any country needs a longer time frame, it should also be indicated and justified during this summit.

4. Loss and Damage Review Agreement

Another issue that negotiators will address in Madrid is the revision of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Losses and Damages (WIM), established in 2013 to address the losses and damages associated with the impacts of climate change, from the loss of cultural heritage and land, to livelihoods and human lives themselves.

At this summit, they will review the effectiveness of the WIM and its long term for the WIM: how it can be improved and even the possible establishment of a working group on financing loss and damage.

5. Financial capacity in the face of these challenges

As detailed by The World Resources Institute, so far 28 countries have confirmed nine billion seven hundred million dollars in pledges for the replenishment of the Green Climate Fund; 12 of those countries have at least doubled their contributions since 2014. This is a positive step, but many more countries should contribute, including oil-producing countries. 

Developing countries, particularly those most vulnerable to climate change, cannot intensify climate action without the financial support of developed countries. This year, too, countries will have to decide whether and how the Paris Committee and other UNFCCC bodies will continue to help countries close the gap between potential and reality.

On the other hand, a very interesting point of view to address is how countries' climate actions could affect equality in their societies, thereby taking into account approaches of just transitions, health impacts, and gender.

COP25 is a particularly key and delicate summit in which all countries put an enormous responsibility at stake. Over the next two weeks, from 2 to 13 December, the whole world will look forward to Madrid.

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