From the 2019 NYC Climate Action Summit to COP25 Madrid
Despite the clear weight of the issue at hand, prospects for significant steps forward at COP25 in December appear slim. COP26 in 2020 will be the last chance for national Paris Agreement plans to be updated before taking force. We should hope that world leaders show more urgency going forwards, although the Climate Action Summit provided little reason for optimism.
Preparing for the COP25 Madrid
The 25th Conference of the Parties will be held in Madrid, Spain, from December 2-13, 2019, after Chile withdrew as a host due to sociopolitical turmoil in the country. The annual COP meeting is the conference that governs the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and, as a testament to the annual meeting’s influence, the Paris Agreement was negotiated at COP21 in 2015.
During the COP24 in Poland in 2018, rules concerning the implementation of the Paris Agreement were finalized, covering topics such as how emissions must be reported. The last COP was fractious in the wake of the IPCC report that suggested existing Paris commitments were not sufficient to stem a 1.5C increase. The report changed little at the time, but there is still time for national commitments to change before the agreement comes into force in 2020.
Results of the 2019 Climate Action Summit
The 2019 Climate Action Summit in New York City was widely regarded as somewhat disappointing. While the event ran smoothly, well-attended by enthusiastic governmental and corporate leaders, many of the ideas put forth sorely lacked the ambition that environmental activists, and United Nations organizers, had hoped for.
While many countries did announce new actions to tackle climate change, none of the key players announced concrete plans to build on their existing commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The United States and Brazil were silent. China simply stated that it would fulfill the promises made under the Paris Agreement 2015. India, despite promising to boost renewable energy capacity by 2022, did not address its growing dependence on coal.
Encouragingly, over 60 national leaders did announced plans to enhance their emission-cutting goals by 2020, although it is hard to ignore that most of them are from smaller countries. Despite all of their positive intent, small island nations, which are among the most vulnerable to climate change, cannot collectively prevent sufficient warming to stave off the sea-level rise set to devastate their economies. Even Mexico, easily the largest of the countries planning to ramp-up their contributions, is responsible for less than 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
As was the case during the 2018 summit, local governments, along with private companies and investors, generated most of the highlights, with a variety of coalitions and initiatives launched to promote investment, ethical asset holding, and technology development. One exciting outcome involved 87 major companies, including Ikea, L’Oréal, and Nestle, announcing commitments to align their businesses with requirements to keep global warming below 1.5C. Elsewhere, giants of the global shipping industry, traditionally a hard-to-abate sector, launched the Getting to Zero coalition, tasked with producing zero-emission vessels by 2030. The United Nations also set in motion the Climate Investment Platform, which seeks to mobilize $1 trillion in clean energy investment in developing nations by 2025.
In the days leading up to the summit, the World Meteorological Society released the ‘United in Science’ report, which compiles recent key findings from the world of climate research. Among other alarming details, experts report that 2015-2019 is set to be the Earth’s warmest five-year period on record, glacier mass loss over the same timeframe is the greatest on record, and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are at their highest concentrations for 3-5 million years. Immediately after the summit, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its own ‘Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.’ The cryosphere refers to frozen parts of the planet which, along with the oceans, are crucial to countless ecosystems yet increasingly at risk due to industrial emissions.
Despite the clear weight of the issue at hand, prospects for significant steps forward at COP25 in December appear slim. COP26 in 2020 will be the last chance for national Paris Agreement plans to be updated before taking force – we should hope that world leaders show more urgency going forwards, although the Climate Action Summit provided little reason for optimism.