A missed opportunity in the fight against climate change

Tuesday, 2019-12-17 15:59:18
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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference in Madrid, Spain on December 1, 2019.
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NDO – The 25th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 25) concluded recently in Madrid, Spain failing to release a code of conduct on combating climate change.

Shortly after the conference ended with such a disappointing result, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said with regrets that “this is a missed opportunity” in the fight against global warming.

In his address on December 15, the UN chief emphasised: “I am disappointed with the results of COP 25. The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis.”

Guterres’s disappointment was also felt by environmental activists, countries which are the “victims” of climate change, and the international community with the increasing worry of global warming being like a “delay-action bomb” threatening to cause catastrophes for humanity.

Right during the time of COP 25, scientists published studies warning that the melting of Greenland glacier in Denmark is taking place at a faster rate than predicted, and could push millions of people to the face of natural disasters by the end of the century. Accordingly, since 1992, 3.8 trillions of tons of ice have melted from Greenland glaciers, which is enough to cause a 1.06cm rise in the sea level. Meanwhile, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, which has been continuously increasing over the past few decades, will reach an average of 410 ppm in 2019 - the highest level in hundreds of years.

These aforementioned facts have brought tens of millions of people on Earth at risk of catastrophic disasters and starvation. At COP 25, Save the Children, a humanitarian aid organisation, warned that the impacts of climate change are pushing tens of millions of people in 10 countries in eastern and southern Africa to the brink of famine. In 2019 alone, floods, landslides, drought and tornadoes devastated parts of eastern and southern Africa, leaving at least 33 million people in critical food insecurity. In addition, more than 16 million children are confronting a food emergency.

Given the urgent risks from climate change, the international community had expected COP 25 to work out significant solutions for the “anti-climate problem”. International leaders also made strong statements about the need to join hands to save the “green planet” before it was too late. Accordingly, the Paris Agreement is the only global binding agreement to address climate change. The European Union (EU) also urged COP 25 to send a strong message on countries’ willingness to exert greater efforts to reduce emissions. Outside the venue of COP 25 in Spain, dozens of thousands of people in many countries around the world took to the streets to march and pressure world leaders to take action to prevent global warming before it’s too late.

However, contrary to the big expectations mentioned above, after two weeks of sitting, COP 25 ended with a disappointing joint statement which only acknowledged the urgent need for new emission reduction commitments to narrow the gap between current emissions and the Paris Agreement targets, aiming to limit the Earth’s temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius. Lamentably, the countries, such as the United States, Brazil, Australia and Saudi Arabia, which emit the largest amount of CO2, continued to evade their responsibilities in strengthening their efforts against global warming. Many environmental experts called this action “shameful”, while at the COP 25 forum, young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg criticised rich countries for seeking to evade their commitments to reducing gas emissions. According to an assessment of countries’ efforts to realise the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change published at COP 25, the UN stood at bottom in the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI). Saudi Arabia and Australia ranked second last in the list mainly since these two countries still do not restrict the use of coal fuel.

Despite extending the conference by two more days, countries at COP 25 still could not finalise a set of rules to implement the Paris climate accord with the aim of limiting the temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius and, if possible, 1.5 degrees Celsius. The reason why the parties failed to reach a common voice is that they could not agree on how to fund the fight against climate change and manage the emissions markets. Another major disagreement is the issue of compensating and supporting countries that suffer the worst effects of extreme weather patterns related to climate change.

With COP 25 failing to develop a code of conduct on combating climate change, COP 26, scheduled next year in Glasgow, UK, will have to continue the ongoing “unfinished mission” in Madrid this year. In the meantime, the world will have to continue to bear the constant apprehension regarding global warming.