The COP25 climate summit in Madrid needs to lay the groundwork for 2020 when countries and blocs will be measured against their commitment to the Paris Agreement. At EU level, this should translate into an ambitious European Green Deal, writes Eliot Whittington.
Eliot Whittington is director of the Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group, Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.
A year in present politics is an eternity, and many of us will have forgotten Brazil was the original location for the COP25 climate summit. That was before Jair Bolsonaro became president and withdrew his country as host.
And then last month, with thousands of protesters on the streets of Santiago, Chile was forced to announce it was cancelling the summit. Hours later Spain picked up the baton as Madrid became the new host of COP25.
For Latin America to lose two chances to hold the climate summit is a significant blow. Not because Madrid will deliver less but because it is easier now to lose focus on the stark reality of climate change on a region facing myriad climate impacts, depletion of natural resources and threats to biodiversity.
Latin America spans four major climatic zones and is home to more than a quarter of the world’s forest cover. The continent holds four of the world’s 17 ‘megadiverse’ nations that together contain 70% of global biodiversity.
The very fact that it is a natural powerhouse makes it hugely sensitive to climate change and vulnerable to economic pressures, as we’ve seen with the recent Amazon wildfires.
But Madrid brings other opportunities at a time when the spotlight needs to be on delivering European potential for progress on decarbonisation.
A COP whose geography shines a light on the realpolitik of internal EU debate just as European leadership needs to become central to the global conversation is hugely valuable – particularly as we approach the December EU Council meeting, that has been promised as the moment Europe will sign off on a long-awaited 2050 net-zero target.
With Ursula von der Leyen’s ambitious Green Deal waiting in the wings for the new Commission ball to start rolling, there are ground-breaking climate actions that could gain impetus from a home context.
In light of the recent move by the European Investment Bank to phase out fossil fuel financing, the rumble of the EU’s game-changing vision of climate leadership feels like it’s coming down the tracks.
COP25 also needs to lay the groundwork for significant outcomes for 2020 when countries and blocs will be measured against the Paris Agreement. After the disappointing lack of ambition from big countries at the UNSG Climate Summit, next year will be the litmus test of who is serious about the global transition to a net-zero future.
Earlier this year new analysis showed the EU would hit at least 50% emissions reduction by 2030 and the bloc has admitted its present 40% target is no longer in line with Paris.
As the IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C shows, the coming ten years are crucial. To achieve climate neutrality by 2050, businesses must ramp up investments without delay and a higher EU target for 2030 will help strengthen this case.
This is in line with recent studies suggesting a 55% target for 2030 is both necessary to remain in line with the 2050 climate neutrality goal, and feasible from a technical and economic point of view.
Many will rightly regret the loss of emphasis on Chile and Latin America at this year’s COP, and the light that would have been thrown on the region’s potential to drive the low-carbon economy, as well as its challenges around environmental and human inequalities.
But managing the looming economic shifts brought on by climate change, and the world’s other megatrends, in ways that minimise social disruption, hardship and disaffection and promote public buy-in is in part what the EU has the opportunity of driving forward with its emissions reduction targets and delivery of the European Green Deal.
Businesses must also look to incorporate considerations of human and climate justice into their decision-making and interactions with stakeholders and policymakers as they embrace the changes that will be required in a new global economy.
Even as many of the discussions at climate summits often focus on more technical questions of rule-making and institution building, it is in early impact regions like Latin America and the Caribbean that the realities of what we are facing are brought into sharp relief, indicating the urgent need for a transition to a sustainable economic system where people and the environment can thrive together.