What’s Going On Here?

The annual COP (Conference of the Parties) meetings bring together world leaders to formulate global agreements on how to tackle climate change. In 2019, a year where grassroots movements and a passionate teen have made the most noise about climate change, is it worth asking: what has COP achieved so far and what can we expect from COP25 Madrid?

What Does This Mean?

COP conferences are currently the only globally united decision making process we have on climate change. Ensuring they have effective outcomes is crucial to the future of our planet.

Past Agreements

Maybe you’ve heard of the Paris agreement, maybe you haven’t. It went further than any other international climate change agreement but some would argue that its achievements have been far from sufficient. Although efforts have been made, most major polluters are on track to miss their 2020 targets and the US have withdrawn from the agreement completely due to ‘economic concerns’.

There are two key elements here that highlight why this might be the case:

  1. Nations were permitted to go away and formulate their own emissions targets. Whilst this got more influential nations on board, a basic set of compulsory principles would apply the much needed pressure to ensure action is taken.
  2. No binding consequences or incentive in place for reaching targets, but holding the conference is arguably only half the job if nations are not held to account for their commitments.

Overall, past COP conferences have done a fantastic job of raising global climate change awareness, particularly for smaller island nations who are most at risk from climate change. They have also brought together nations on the issue, which is essential to drive any change.

However, we are now at a stage where no more time can be wasted (we are in a climate crisis remember!) and the need for urgent action is at its peak.

Looking ahead to COP25

New commitments and their severity is expected to be the main bulk of discussion in Madrid. COP25 looks ahead to Glasgow 2020, perhaps the most crucial COP conference, as countries will be committing to new and updated climate action plans.

From what we know now, we can hope that more ambitious national efforts will be proposed. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated before the conference that it is ‘essential that we secure more ambitious national commitments’ and that the main emitters of greenhouse gases (USA, UK, Canada & China etc) must ‘reduce emissions at a pace consistent to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.’

So this sounds promising, but going forward should there be measures to stop nations defaulting on these agreements in favour of fossil fuel income or airport expansions?

There are some major challenges to discuss at COP25:

  • Getting the US on board! Without one of the world’s largest polluters committing to change, other nations’ commitments need to make up for that. At present they are sending ‘non official’ representatives, which doesn’t sound too promising.
  • Finances. The economic cost of climate change is beginning to rack up as more extreme weather events occur, particularly in developing nations. One of the more complex subjects to discuss at COP25 will be: should high polluting countries be financially liable for these costs?
  • If the 2020 goals set out in Paris are not achieved (which looks likely for most of the major polluters), will nations lose confidence in COP? The discussion in Madrid and eventually Glasgow must prepare for this possibility and put measures in place.

Why Should We Care?

2019 is on course to be in the top three warmest years on record. It seems we hear the same year after year and the dangers of climate change are becoming more and more visceral. As ever, adding our voice is crucial.

COP conferences remain an excellent catalyst for change and awareness but it is essential that more decisive action is taken going forward.

Be Curious!

  • Stay informed! Keep an eye out for the outcomes of COP25. Discussion in the media surrounding the aftermath is likely to add pressure to any weak targets.
  • Support climate movements fighting to push our governments in the right direction. By doing this, we add pressure on nations to adhere to their targets! 
  • Vote!! Look for a party that is most likely to produce and adhere to more ambitious plans for tackling climate change.

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