COP25 news and views: What’s happening in Madrid (part 3)

Hundreds demonstrated inside the halls of COP25 Wednesday in Madrid chanting “step up, pay up.” [Annabelle Avril /wecf]

As UN climate negotiations enter their second and decisive week, EURACTIV gives you a glimpse into the goings on of the 25th climate conference in Madrid (COP25) and what is driving the conversation there. In this edition: Badges taken away, German satisfaction, French absence, and fighting in Tokyo.

German satisfaction on Green Deal, no comment on the French side. Speaking to the German press on the sideline of the COP25, German Environment minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) said the Green Deal puts climate and environmental policy where it belongs, “namely at the heart of European policymaking”. She said EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans have presented a smart and thought-through roadmap for all parts of society. “The goal of climate neutrality has already been set in Germany’s Climate Action Law and I welcome the fact that European policy will be geared towards reaching this goal as well now. Everything will now depend on the exact details and what the plans are for specific areas. For me it’s important that this programme of ecologic growth is implemented in a socially just manner”. The German minister stressed that Europe is expected to take a leading role at the COP25 and “today’s announcement will help us to fulfil this responsibility.”

On the other hand, there was no comment from French Environment minister Elisabeth Borne who left Madrid on Tuesday to discuss France’s planned pension reform, which triggered massive strikes among public railway companies SNCF and RATP. French observers have criticised the very little time spent by French ministers at COP meetings.

Only COP26 will reveal whether Madrid was a success – German environment minister. The world will only know at next year’s COP26 whether the Madrid climate summit can be considered a success, according to German environment minister Svenja Schulze. “We will see the result of COP25 in Glasgow next year,” Schulze said during a press briefing with reference to the climate action ambition increase due in 2020, when countries across the globe will have to table additional emission cuts in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the framework of the Paris Agreement. “In Glasgow, we all have to put our cards on the table,” Schulze said. At a UN summit in New York in September, 70 states, including Germany, already announced that they would increase their ambitions in 2020 and 65 of them said they would aim to become climate-neutral by 2050.

Schulze also said Germany wanted to use its EU presidency in the second half of next year to increase its climate ambition in tandem with other large emitters. “I want to use the EU presidency to march ahead, and to pull along others, such as China,” Schulze said with a view to next year’s EU-China summit in Leipzig that will coincide with the country’s presidency. “This is what we have to prepare now.” (Sören Amelang, Clean Energy Wire)

Badges taken away. Wednesday afternoon, the UNFCCC security staff interrupted a “pans concert” organised by several NGOs and 200 observers were suspended from their COP25 participation badges.

“We were driven out of the negotiating halls, told that we can take our action outside as they raised an enormous metal door and herded us out. We weren’t advised to the intentions of the UN security to take our badges. We stood out in the cold, many without our jackets and coats as we later watched the  enormous metal door lock us out in the cold. An Indigenous woman was not allowed to go back inside to feed her baby,” the NGOs said in a joint statement.

“This has never happened before in 25 years of negotiations. Yet, there could be no better symbol of this crisis we face. People around the world are crying out for justice, and fighting oppression, while those in power attempt to shut us out,” the statement reads.

The protest took place just hours after Greta Thunberg addressed the world and business leaders and accused them of “creative PR” and to use COP25 to “negociate loopholes” instead of acting on climate: “The biggest danger is not inaction. The real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action”.

Disconnected talks. The slow pace of climate negotiations in Madrid, where painful attention is paid to wording and punctuation (i.e. brackets), appears to be in total disconnection with the mobilisation of civil society and the scientific community. “I’ve been attending these climate negotiations since they first started in 1991. But never have I seen the almost total disconnect we’re seeing here in Madrid between what the science requires and the people of the world demand, and what the climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful action,” said Alden Meyer, in charge of Strategy and Policy at Union of Concerned Scientists. A veteran of the UN climate talks and a valuable source for journalists, Meyer said this was true both when it comes to raising the ambition of countries’ emissions reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement and to mobilising much greater support for the vulnerable countries and communities who are facing ever-more-devastating impacts of climate change.

73 states commit to carbon neutrality by 2050, China, the United States, India missing. Wednesday was placed under the call for ambition by the Chilean presidency. Yet, it still seems to be limited to the most vulnerable states and the EU, without reaching the largest emitters such as China, the United States, India or Japan. Five new countries said they joined the carbon neutrality coalition: South Korea, Ireland, Monaco, Switzerland and Fiji. They account for a total of 2.16% of global GHG emissions. India indicated that it would not table new NDCs next year and that this debate on the succession of ambition should not take place until 2023 and the first global review. The G77 negotiating group, of which China is a member, stated that before asking all states to renew their NDCs, developed countries must first provide pledges on finance and governance.

Coal fight in Tokyo. At a press conference, Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said he was “fighting” with his own government to present a more “robust climate plan by next year”. While he failed to convince members of his government to mention coal-fired power plants in his speech at the high-level segment on Wednesday, Shinjiro assured them that he would continue to work convincingly. He underlined the gap that is currently prevailing between the criticism coming from the international community because of Japan’s coal policy, and the non-discussion around coal in his country. Koizumi said he was aware that he represented a country that has been criticised internationally for its investments in the coal sector, but said the level of awareness in his country was not yet sufficient. This was the first time in a decade that a Japanese minister spoke at a press conference during a COP. New energy finance analysis shows Japan is set to spend $4.8 billion on new coal plants in Indonesia, Bangladesh and Vietnam, alongside national plans to build 15 new coal plants.

Fossil of the day goes to Japan and Brazil, ray of the day for IPCC Scientists. Coincidence? Green campaigners at CAN international rewarded Japan and Brazil on Wednesday with its Fossil of the Day award. “It is hard to describe how deeply disappointed we are with Japan’s announcements — or rather, the lack thereof. Today, Japan’s Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said Japan rejected yet another opportunity to improve its ‘highly insufficient’ emission reduction target and to end financing for coal,” CAN said. The second Fossil of the Day award went to Brazil for legitimising land grabbing and deforestation, the NGO said, adding that President Jair Bolsonaro was rewarding criminal gangs and igniting a carbon bomb. “Elected under the promise of bringing law and order to his country, Brazil’s far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro gave criminal gangs quite a Christmas present last night: he sent to Congress an executive decree that allows for a wide amnesty to land grabbing, the single most important driver of deforestation (hence carbon emissions) in Brazil,” it said. The Ray of the Day went to the IPCC “to recognise the amazing work this Nobel Prize winning group of scientists.” CAN said they produced three key reports in the past two years that provided the basis for all the work civil society is doing to pressure governments to accelerate climate action and decarbonise the economy.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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