COP25 is a story of escape

Following massive anti-austerity and anti-government protests across Chile, the 25th United Nations’ annual climate change summit – Conference of the Parties, or COP for short – was relocated from Santiago to Madrid. By offering to host the summit instead, Spain gave the Chilean government a chance to escape the international spotlight that would have further exposed its violent crackdown of protests which were escalating in the run up to COP25. It is estimated that the state violence in Santiago is now the worst the country has seen since the Pinochet dictatorship, but the news cycle has moved on. 

The change of location created logistical havoc and will severely limit participation in the debate. Tens of thousands of delegates had planned to travel to Santiago not only for the UN meetings but for large social fora such as the Cumbre de los Pueblos, or People’s Summit. Those hit hardest by the location change will as usual be groups that are primarily indigenous, grassroots movements, and from the Global South. 

Chile is still presiding over the meeting in Madrid, but how domestic unrest and the sudden relocation will affect its leadership and legitimacy at COP remains to be seen – as does the exact nature of Spain’s role (Spain held its second general election of 2019 on November 10th and at the time of writing has yet to form a government).

Alongside this political turmoil, the chaos of climate change is intensifying at a terrifying rate. The world’s chance to avert catastrophic runaway climate change is quickly escaping. In November the World Meteorological Organization announced that greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere have risen to a record high. The United Nations Environment Program’s 2019 “Emissions Gap Report” unequivocally stated that, in order to remain within the 1.5C warming threshold, global emissions must be reduced by 7.6% annually from now until 2030. This represents a five-fold increase in ambition compared to current plans as laid out in countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). 

COP25 is the penultimate meeting before the Paris Agreement NDCs comes into effect in January 2021 and countries are expected to start implementing their commitments. However, in spite of growing numbers of people taking to the streets to demand action, the meeting threatens to be the latest installment in a years-long Great Escape of responsibility that rich countries have been enacting. 

To escape from their responsibilities, rich industrialised countries are using dangerous distractions like carbon markets which undermine real solutions. They are deliberately forgetting their previous promises, delaying others from taking action by withholding vital funding, and shutting down any attempts to talk about compensation for climate damages. 

We will explore each of these escape routes for polluters in the coming days as COP25 gets underway. 

Notes

Before diving into the specific issues at COP25 it’s worth checking out the following links which contain important background to understanding the evolving dynamics of the climate change negotiations and the climate justice movements’ demands. 

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