Key Takeaways from the UN Climate Conference

Jan 7, 2020

The world takes on one of the most pressing issues of our time — the climate emergency — at COP25 in Madrid, Spain

The following is a guest post by Dan Shepard, UN Communications Officer and Climate Communications Expert

The Climate Conference in Madrid — COP25 — was an important opportunity for the world to develop solutions for addressing the climate emergency. While the two-week-plus conference did not achieve all that was hoped for, in the end, important groundwork was established for taking definitive next steps to increase the level of action that is needed to meet one of the most pressing challenge facing our world today.

COP25 in Madrid was organized by Spain in less than a month, after the original organizer, Chile, was unable to host the conference. More than 26,000 people attended the conference, including more than 13,000 government delegates, nearly 10,000 observers, and more than 3,000 members of the media.

The negotiations were focused on several important provisions to guide implementation of the Paris Agreement, in particular, rules for carbon trading markets, and a facility to address the needs of people who have no climate adaptation options, in other words, those who are forced to leave their homes due to the climate crisis. After intense negotiations, ultimately, there were only a few countries that did not join an emerging consensus.

Despite the challenging negotiations, COP25 demonstrated that the world is, in many respects, responding to the climate emergency after having heeded the alarms set off by the scientific community.

In the lead up to COP25, the World Meteorological Organization reported that greenhouse gas levels were continuing to rise to record levels, and that 2019 would likely be the second or third warmest year on record — with the last five years being the warmest.

Prior to the start of the conference, a report from the UN Environment Programme was also released, indicating that collectively, the world would have to deliver a 7.6% emissions reduction every year between 2020 and 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

There were some encouraging new announcements that came as a result of COP25.

Chile announced that the Climate Ambition Alliance, which it launched in September 2019 at the Climate Action Summit in New York, now has 114 countries committed to updating their climate plans, or nationally determined contributions, with greater ambition during the next year. The number of countries that have committed to being carbon neutral by 2050 also grew from 65 to 121 countries, joined by 398 cities and 786 companies.

More businesses also announced their response to the climate emergency. The UN Global Compact reported that more than 170 businesses have stepped up to set ambitious climate targets aligned with limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

These targets will be validated by the Science Based Targets initiative as a first step towards achieving net-zero emissions no later than 2050. They join nearly 400 cities, 500 small and medium-sized B-Corp enterprises, and investors with over US$ 4 trillion in assets under management, who are demonstrating similar levels of ambition.

COP25 saw an emphasis on the “just transition” — ensuring that climate action benefits citizens through employment opportunities and better health.

During COP25, there was greater emphasis placed on nature-based solutions which work with natural systems. It is estimated that these solutions could reduce emissions by as much as a third.

It was also the first COP to emphasize the role of oceans in climate change. The oceans, which absorb 90 percent of the excess heat in the world, has been warming, while at the same time sea levels are rising and undergoing increasing acidification.

A view of the bay of Suva, Fiji. UN Photo / Mark Garten

Governments also agreed an ambitious five-year programme and action plan to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls through climate policy and action.

Further, the European Union took a major step forward with the political agreement at the European Council to commit the EU to climate neutrality by 2050.

Although at the conclusion of the conference, UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his disappointment with the results of negotiations, he also stressed his renewed determination to tackle the climate emergency.

2020 will be a major test for the world, as countries are working on improving their national climate plans to reflect greater action and ambition in the next year.

COP25 and the Climate Action Summit demonstrated that more countries, more businesses, and more citizens are stepping up to meet the challenges of the climate emergency. They are showing that it is possible to take climate action, create jobs and pathways to prosperity, and build resilience.

Next year’s COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland will be an important step forward in determining the progress the world will make over the next decade.

Dan Shepard is a UN Communications Officer & Climate Communications Expert


Statement by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres on the Outcome of COP25

An important opportunity lost as COP25 ends in compromise, but Guterres declares ‘we must not give up’

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