The Chilean COP25 conference, hosted by Madrid, was intended to discuss mostly technical issues related to the “carbon market” as provided for in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, and thus to agree on shared rules which would allow for transparent “climate cooperation.”
The discussion about the increase of the emission reduction goals was, and still is, set to take place next year, according to the mechanism of five-yearly review decided in Paris in 2015. Therefore, the “failure” of the COP25 does not lie in the failure to agree on such increases, but rather in the failure to come to an agreement on the technical aspects, which, as in any negotiation of this complexity, are the decisive factors: the devil is always in the details. Unclear rules for transactions involving emissions trading would mean a high risk of double counting or of measures insufficiently accounted for, a “recycling” of the credits already issued under the Kyoto Protocol which would—according to current estimates—lead to the emissions goals decided in the formal plan being effectively watered down by 25% on average, thus turning the Paris Agreements into a dead letter.
The “fossil coalition” has been trying, by means of the discussion of these technical aspects, to sabotage and effectively sink the Paris Agreement. In particular, Brazil, a country led by Bolsonaro, which is currently promoting the destruction of the Amazon and of the peoples who live there, has spearheaded a real effort to sabotage the negotiations on Article 6.
So, where are we at now, after the failure of the COP held in Madrid? On the “technical” issue, i.e. Article 6, a group of countries, including the European countries and the most vulnerable countries such as small islands, have agreed on the mandatory principles for regulating the market for CO2 emissions, on which the discussion will resume next June in Bonn.
The Paris Agreement comes out of this battered and bruised, of course, but still standing. In these conditions, 2020 becomes the crucial year for overcoming the resistance of the fossil coalition front: the final round will play out between the June discussions in Bonn, the youth “pre-COP” in Italy and the official COP in Glasgow at the end of the year.
Without initiatives by the large emitters, it will be difficult to see progress on the political level. The “fossil coalition” includes Brazil, Australia, the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India and China.
It should be remembered that the Paris Agreement was building on several previous initiatives, including a technological cooperation agreement between the United States and China, promoted by the Obama administration.
Today, as we know, the international context has profoundly changed: the “tariff war” promoted by Trump is in fact redesigning—or trying to redesign—the balances of power, and, in a sense, redefining globalization, or what remains of it. All the while, addressing global warming, the most serious global issue we face, requires a high degree of international cooperation.
In the short term, while we wait to see what the next US elections will bring, the only possibility to move forward seems to be to establish an axis of cooperation between the EU and China: next September, a summit is planned in Leipzig, Germany, in preparation for the COP26 in Glasgow, with the goal of understanding whether the drive for industrial transformation outlined—albeit clumsily and insufficiently—by the European Green New Deal and the revision of the targets for reducing emissions, to be decided before the summer, could also form the basis for technological agreements with China. On the other hand, China, together with Brazil, India and South Africa, is calling for developed countries to keep their promise to finance the poorer ones. Indeed, this is the time for us to keep that promise.
Giuseppe Onufrio is director of Greenpeace Italy