Reportage. Global governments have so far failed to meet the urgent demands of the climate crisis. But COP25 gives them another chance, with mounting pressure from civil society.

What’s at stake at the COP25 in Madrid this week

The task facing the world’s major players at COP25 could not be more crucial: they must agree on the operational rules for the Paris Agreement. 

The accord, signed in 2015, is supposed to be fully operational by next year, effectively pursuing its goals and working towards keeping global warming within the risk thresholds identified by science. However, as of now—as this year’s UNEP report on the gap in emissions targets also points out—the commitments to reduce emissions made by individual states are not sufficient to avoid the most serious consequences of climate change. 

We are on a dangerous path, moving inexorably toward an increase in global average temperatures of more than 3 degrees celsius compared to the pre-industrial period, well beyond the Paris Agreement’s threshold of 2 degrees celsius and more than twice the 1.5 degrees celsius recommended by the IPCC in its Special Report from October 2018.

In Madrid, governments will have to decide on the issues left unresolved since the launch of the Agreement. These include the role of carbon markets, which are strongly opposed by civil society organizations and which have already demonstrated their ineffectiveness on several occasions, and the mechanism for compensation for loss and damage (i.e. the inevitable damages caused by ongoing climate change, which will unfortunately remain high regardless of the measures of adaptation and mitigation that we can adopt at this point).

This issue is particularly thorny because the consequences of climate change are being felt especially by the poorest countries, first and foremost by the small island nations that are already seeing large parts of their territories disappear under water.

Another important topic of debate will be the so-called “Green Finance” sector, which is expected to discuss the issue of the aid that the most industrialized countries, which are those most responsible for climate change, should provide to those countries that will suffer its most serious impacts, who have both fewer historical responsibilities and fewer means to address these impacts.

The main theme of the negotiations will once again be the timing for the upward revision of the individual state-level commitments to fight the climate crisis, and success is by no means a foregone conclusion. This COP has already begun under bad auspices, with the Chilean government’s last-minute withdrawal from its organization.

In Santiago, where the summit was originally scheduled to take place, the increasingly violent repressive measures by the authorities have attempted to drown the revolt of the population in blood, a rebellion against an economic and political system that fuels inequalities and chips away at rights. 

But it’s not only the situation in Chile that is worrying: the global geopolitical situation is increasingly uncertain, with the right wing, extremism and populism still on the rise in several countries, from Brazil to the United States all the way to Europe. These forces are promoting a culture of xenophobia, isolationism and extreme individualism, which also characteristically features the downplaying of the importance of the climate crisis, despite the fact that it is clear now—and scientists should not miss any opportunity to make this point once again—that if we fail to address this crisis today, we will not get a second chance.

In the name of an ill-considered notion of defending national interests, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, is in the process of following the formal procedure to exit the Paris Agreement, thus bringing the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases today out of the deal—and one which, moreover, bears the lion’s share of historical responsibility for climate change. The UN climate summit held in New York in September represented yet another failure, with the refusal by the major emitters to make ambitious commitments to decarbonize their economies.

However, this very troubling situation will not be without its silver lining, in the form of the colorful and lively light of hope coming from the other community that will occupy Madrid in the next two weeks: outside the grey halls of the negotiations, a transnational multitude will take to the streets, will organize meetings, debates, mobilizations and moments of reflection, will exchange experiences from all over the world that outline an alternative model which is already possible, and will proclaim its rejection of the logic of capitalism and consumerism to the sound of music and the beat of drums, standing for fundamental values we all share: the defense of human rights, justice between peoples and between generations, the right to a future.

Over the last year, the twin movements of Fridays for Future—with its four global strikes organized so far—and Extinction Rebellion have administered a powerful shock to the public debate, finally bringing these issues out into the streets and from there onto the political agenda: a symptom of a civil society that is unwilling to surrender to the drift of our times.

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