All eyes were on Madrid last month when the UN Climate Change Conference COP 25 took place. Negotiators and politicians from all over the world gathered to discuss how to respond to the climate emergency. Starting a new year, and decade, the discussions taken at these meetings will surely have a huge impact on all of our lives.
Here are five takeaways from the climate talks, to give you a sense of what we can expect from our leaders and opinion makers in the year to come:
1. The voices of our youth can not be ignored
The summit exposed a widening gap between the expectations of concerned youth and campaigners and negotiators. This was made obvious as these two stakeholders never actually interacted during the conference.
Negotiators quarantined themselves in a sterile conference center to haggle over important but highly technical details about carbon markets and finance. Meanwhile, youth and civil society activists staged protests around the city to call on politicians to do more. A massive demonstration overtook the streets to close the conference’s first week led by the Fridays for Future movement — including Sweden's Greta Thunberg.
Keeping in mind how influential Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement has become, starting a new decade, the leaders of the world will not be able to ignore the demands they are making.
2. 1.5 degrees ‘still within reach’
The Paris Agreement commitments mean a rise of 3.2 degrees will be a fact unless more drastic action is taken. Even though the efforts so far have been “utterly inadequate”, the UN chief, is still optimistic about collective climate actions to reach the goal to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
“The technologies that are necessary to make this possible are already available,'' he says “the signals of hope are multiplying and being turned in to action. Public opinion is waking up. Young people are showing remarkable leadership and mobilization.” The key missing ingredient is a lack of political will he said: “Political will to put a price on carbon. Political will to stop subsidies on fossil fuels”, or to shift taxation from income to carbon, “taxing pollution instead of people.”
3. Sweden takes the lead, United States lags last
A ranking of the world's most emission-intensive economies indicates who is working hardest to protect the climate. But the biggest takeaway from the new study is that there are no gold medals to be given out in the race to cut emissions; not as long as the competitors universally fail to match the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees. The study analyzed and compared the progress toward the 2 degree goal in 57 countries.
They were ranked in four areas: Greenhouse gas emissions, share of energy generated by renewables, energy consumption per capita, and current and climate policy.
With no country deemed worthy of gold, silver or bronze, Sweden took fourth place. Sweden scored well on policy, with its target of a 100% renewable energy supply by 2040, and the world's highest carbon tax at 114 euros per metric ton. By comparison, Germany is planning to introduce a tax of 10 euros on a ton of carbon 2021.
Behind Sweden, Denmark and Morocco came in fifth and sixth. Germany lagged behind in 23rd place. Europe's biggest climate loser, meanwhile, was Poland, in 50th place. China climbed the rankings compared to last year, but is still in the bottom half of the table, in 30th place. The United States came in the last place with the ranking of 61st place.
4. The ocean can’t handle more CO2
At the close of a four-year process to examine the impacts of climate change on the world’s ocean and cryosphere and their role in climate mitigation, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its findings in 2019.
The result showed that marine heatwaves are now commonplace with ocean levels rising and marine ecosystems being strung out. The report, the Ocean and the Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) also shows that by absorbing more CO2, the ocean has undergone increasing surface acidification, and a loss of oxygen has occurred from the surface down to 1000 meters. The situation will be increasingly dangerous if the world doesn’t urgently move on to the least-emissions pathway.
Thanks to a last-minute intervention by Spain's acting Environment Minister Teresa Ribera, a veteran negotiator, delegates agreed on stricter guidelines for countries to boost their climate goals.
5. Agreement on a call to boost emissions reductions
Ribera welcomed the decision "to increase climate ambition in national contributions to respond to the climate emergency" in a tweet. But it was below what's expected “in terms of increasing ambition at the level that is demanded in the streets and by the people," she told reporters after the plenary session finished.
The summit was also a tight balancing act for European nations, which repeatedly said they couldn't support an outcome that didn't include a strong message on polluters all over the world to update their climate pledges in 2020. As the EU is working to set higher targets for 2030 and 2050, it is important that other emitters, especially China, follow suit.