As the US federal government steps down from the Paris Agreement, a group of representatives from local governments, business leaders, universities and many other institutions participated actively at the United Nations climate summit – even having their own pavilion.
This was the third year in a row that the “We Are Still In” coalition was at a COP climate summit, showing their rejection of the lack of climate policies of President Donald Trump. Since its launch, the coalition has doubled its size and now includes 3,600 representatives from all 50 states.
The coalition basically acts as a shadow delegation to the federal government officials. Its members met with national governments, lobbied for stronger climate actions and organized a set of events at their pavilion, including former VP Al Gore and actor Harrison Ford.
“We’re here to say to all of you, on behalf of the House of Representatives and the Congress of the United States, we’re still in it, we’re still in it,” US Congressional leader Nancy Pelosi said at COP25, in a visit to the climate talks with a group of lawmakers of the United States.
The coalition represents 70% of the GDP of the US, 65% of the population and over half of the emissions of the country. All of them have pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by improving energy efficiency, using renewable energy and electric vehicles, among other measures.
Under the Paris Agreement, the United States has committed to reducing emissions from 26% to 28% below 2005 levels in 2025. The US is the second-largest emitter, behind China. President Trump has announced the intention to leave the Paris Agreement, a process that will take a full year to happen.
“As the Trump administration backs away from the Paris Agreement, leaders across America are keeping their commitments. There is a growing demand for climate action in the U.S,” said Laurence Tubiana, former France’s Climate Change Ambassador and Special Representative to COP21.
To make the message clear, the coalition held a set of presentations at their pavilion during the two weeks at COP25. Talks included actions by states, companies and civil society on climate action as well as more informative sessions to highlight the benefits of a low-carbon economy.
This contrasted with the role of the US federal government at the conference, with actions questioned by civil society and a reduced delegation. There was expectation over the 2020 presidential elections in the US and the possibility of a new administration that brings back the country to the Paris Agreement.
“We are not here to debate the facts. We know what to do, we know the facts. What we need is the courage to act,” US actor Harrison Ford said. “The reason why I’m here is simple. It’s because Trump isn’t. His administration rejects to fight climate change and we have to do the work.”
Despite being in Madrid, the more than 20,000 people attending the COP25 climate summit can get the feeling of how it’s like to breathe the air of some of the most polluted cities in the world thanks to an art installation set up at the sidelines of the summit.
London artist Michael Pinsky installed a set of “pollution pods” to recreate the bad air quality of London, Beijing, Sao Paulo, and New Delhi. Instead of actual smog, he used perfume blends and fog machines, making sure there’s no actual risk to the visitors of the installation.
Nevertheless, that’s not the case for millions that live in polluted cities across the globe. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nine out of ten people on the planet are affected by polluted air, killing over seven million prematurely per year. Children are especially vulnerable, WHO said.
“The health burden of polluting energy sources is now so high, that moving to cleaner and more sustainable choices for energy supply, transport and food systems effectively pays for itself,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.
The pods actually start at Norway, with the cleanest air in the world, and then moves on to the cities with actual pollution, from good to worse. As visitors walk around, they can see and feel the contrast between different cities. Most leave the pods with an expression of shock.
The installation arrived in Madrid thanks to several agencies such as the WHO. The pods were commissioned to Pinsky as part of Climart, a research project that examines the psychological mechanisms that are involved in the production and reception of visual art, hoping to unite natural sciences and visual arts.
Teresa Ribera, Minister for the Ecological Transition of Spain, said: “Air pollution and climate change are the two sides of the same coin. The symbolic installation of the Pollution Pods at COP25 should remind everybody that we are negotiating for cleaner environments, cutting emissions and gaining better health for all.”
Back in July, the UN and WHO called governments to act on air quality through the “Clean Air Initiative”, which seeks the commitment of countries to have safe air quality and to align the agenda of climate change and air pollution by 2030.
Air pollution costs the global economy US$5.11 trillion in welfare losses, according to the World Bank. In the 15 countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions, impacts are estimated at more than 4% of GDP.
What was initially just a speech by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres soon turned into chaos at the COP25 climate summit, as a group of 300 civil society representatives entered into the plenary of negotiations and started an unexpected protest.
Activists from non-governmental organizations, indigenous groups, and environmental NGOs organized a non-violent protest at the main hall where representatives from countries are trying to reach a deal over the rulebook of the Paris Agreement, signed in 2015 to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
“What’s happening at COP25 has nothing to do with addressing climate change. We all came together to ask for real solutions, not false ones. Industrialized countries have to step up. The planet is for grabs for CO2 colonialism,” Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said after the protest.
UN head Guterres was giving a speech when activists entered the plenary, holding banners and singing songs to ask for climate action. But soon the mood changed. Dozens of security officials arrived and pushed the activists out of the climate talks, also taking away their badges to return on the remaining days of the summit.
The protest attracted the attention of everybody at COP25, who tried to enter the plenary to see what was happening. But soon more security officials blocked the access to the area, not allowing anybody to enter – even country delegates who had to get to the plenary to continue the negotiations.
“We’re here to demand rich governments like the U.S., EU, Canada, Australia, and Japan reduce emissions and provide support for impacted communities. The ones that created the climate crisis, and bear the historical and current responsibility, must act,” said the Women & Gender Constituency on a press release.
The mood is low among civil society at the COP25 climate talks. Key issues are not making any progress such as carbon markets, gender, human rights and loss and damage, all part of the Paris Agreement but yet to be defined. This might force to drag on the discussion on these issues to the next COP26 in the UK.
At the same time, NGOs have questioned throughout COP the need to raise ambition, as with the current climate pledges from countries global warming is set to reach between 3.5 and 5 degrees Celsius. They have specifically targeted Brazil, the US, China, India, and Saudi Arabia.
The clash between the police and the climate activists happened a few hours before Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg addressed the plenary at COP25, accusing countries and business leaders of using the climate talks “to negotiate loopholes” instead of acting on climate.
“People brought their frustration into the negotiations and they have been shut outside and not let back in. Indigenous people were fighting for their homes, opposed to loopholes. They need to be let back in. Everyone from civil society have to be welcomed at climate negotiations,” Greenpeace head Jennifer Morgan said.
As climate talks have all but come to a halt at the UN climate summit, in Madrid, youth activists are putting pressure on country delegations to raise ambition to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement — with Greta Thunberg as their main spokesperson.
“In just three weeks we’ll enter in a new decade which will define our future. Now we are all desperately looking for a signal of hope. And I can tell you that there’s hope, I’ve seen it. But it doesn’t come from governments or corporations, it comes from the people,” Thunberg said.
The Swedish climate activist addressed country delegations at the plenary of the COP25 climate summit. She arrived in Madrid after two weeks of travel from the US in a catamaran, choosing this travel option to reduce emissions associated with flying (which are about 10 times higher than sailing). Since then, she has participated in different events at COP25 and putting pressure on countries.
As usual in her speeches, Thunberg did not bring her own ideas to the table, instead choosing to quote several scientific reports and studies to back her call to action. She said that in order to have a 67% chance to avoid global warming to surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius only 420 gigatons of carbon dioxide can be released. At the current pace, that will happen in just eight years, she said.
“Our leaders are not behaving like we were in an emergency,” she said. “In an emergency, you change the way you act. If there’s a kid in the middle of the road and cars come at full speed, you don’t look at somewhere else just because it’s awkward. You immediately run and rescue him”.
Following her speech, dozens of activists from her movement Fridays for Future took the stage at the COP25 plenary for several minutes as a sign of protest. Thunberg is now heading back to Sweden. She will travel on train, electric bus and electric car along with her father, according to her press manager.
Youth climate activists are the main protagonists in the halls of COP25 and in the streets of Madrid. Every day they carry out different actions to highlight their discontent with the pace of the climate negotiations. About half a million people marched on a climate protest last Friday.
Talks in Madrid are stalling as countries are having trouble to agree on the use of carbon markets as part of the Paris Agreement, signed in 2015 to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. A decision on the issue could be pushed ahead to next year’s COP26 in the UK.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said there’s still time to “make the COP25 very relevant” but in order to do that, an agreement has to be made on carbon markets as well as getting a more significant commitment from developed countries on emissions reductions.
None of the 57 most polluting countries is on track to reduce the necessary emissions to reach the targets of the Paris Agreement, according to a report introduced at the COP25 climate summit. The “crown” goes to the United States, which rank as the worst climate performer according to the report.
The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) is a ranking of 57 countries which account for about 90% of global GHG emissions. The four categories assessed are greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy, energy use, and climate policy.
The report showed opposing trends in climate action. The United States, Australia, and Saudi Arabia were ranked with low to very low performances in emissions but at the same time, global coal consumption is dropping while investment in renewables continues.
“The report shows signs of a global turnaround in emissions, including declining coal consumption. However, several large countries are still trying to resist this trend – above all the USA. We see opportunities for a halt to rising global emissions,” said Ursula Hagen, one of the authors of the report.
The first three places on the index were symbolically left vacant as none of the countries assessed is on a trajectory compatible with the Paris Agreement, signed in 2015. Countries committed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
The performance of European Union countries in the index varied significantly. Eight countries were rated high, eight low and two very low. Bulgaria and Poland were the worst performing ones in the region because of low results on renewable energy and low policy rating.
“The EU has lost a few ranks but could move up again if it were to follow the recommendation by the new president of the European Commission to increase the emission reduction target from -40% to -55% by 2030 compared to 1990 and adopt a long-term strategy for reaching climate neutrality by 2050”, said Prof. Dr. Niklas Höhne from NewClimate Institute.
Now the main global emitter, China improved its ranking slightly, with good performance because of its largest share of renewables and good policy ratings. Nevertheless, a potential expansion of coal-fired power plants could put the country at the bottom of the ranking.
Only two countries of the G20 group, the United Kingdom and India, were ranked in the “high” category, while eight ones remain in the “very low” category. The US was the worst performer for the first time, ranking low with Saudi Arabia and Australia. During the Trump administration, the US always ranked low or very low.
“This science-based assessment shows again that in particular the large climate polluters do hardly anything for the transformational shift we need to deep emissions reductions to curtail the run to potentially irreversible climate change”, Dr. Stephan Singer from the Climate Action Network (CAN), co-publisher of the CCPI, said.
The growing number of greenhouse gas emissions and the loss of nutrients are taking oxygen out of the oceans, threatening all marine biodiversity.
The report “Ocean deoxygenation: Everyone’s problem” looked at the causes, impacts and solutions to the loss of oxygen of oceans. It showed that about 700 ocean sites now have low levels of oxygen, a steep increased from the 45 registered in the 1960 – threatening species such as tuna and sharks.
“With this report, the scale of damage climate change is wreaking upon the ocean comes into stark focus. As the warming ocean loses oxygen, the delicate balance of marine life is thrown into disarray,” said Dr Grethel Aguilar, acting director-general at The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The report argued that the threat to oceans from chemicals such as nitrogen from agriculture has long been known and still remains as the main problem. Nevertheless, the effects of climate change have been underestimated — and as our emissions continue to grow, so do the ocean problems. Oceans absorb most of the heat generated because of the greenhouse effect, but having warmer water means less oxygen can be held.
Between 1960 and 2010, the report estimates that the amount of oxygen dissolved in the oceans declined by an average of 2%, reaching 40% in tropical countries.
Both small and large changes in the level of oxygen can have an impact on marine life, according to the report. Water with less oxygen can favor species such as jellyfish but can also affect larger ones such as tuna, who are driven into shallow water with more oxygen and then get more exposed to excessive fishing.
“The potentially dire effects on fisheries and vulnerable coastal communities mean that the decisions made at the ongoing UN Climate Change Conference are even more crucial. To curb ocean oxygen loss alongside the other disastrous impacts of climate change, world leaders must commit to immediate and substantial emission cuts,” Aguilar said.
Keeping the business-as-usual approach regarding emissions would mean for the world’s oceans to lose between 3% and 4% of the oxygen by 2100. This will probably be worst for tropical countries. Most of the loss will happen in the first 1.000 meters of water, which is the area with most biodiversity.
This year’s climate change conference has been labeled as a “blue COP”, putting a special focus on oceans and their link with climate change. This was a decision by Chile, this year’s COP President, seeking countries to come up with specific measures linked to oceans and climate.
Despite the Paris Agreement on climate change and commitments by countries, greenhouse gas emissions are still rising while weather extremes are now becoming the new normal, according to a report presented at the COP25 climate summit in Madrid.
The report “10 New Insights in Climate Science” summarized the most recent scientific advances on climate change over the past year, including drivers, effects and impacts. The publication was done by Future Earth and The Earth League, global organizations representing networks of global sustainability scientists.
“Climate change is happening much faster and stronger than we ever expected. We are all under threat if this continues,” Patricia Espinosa, UN climate change head, said. “We must act right now, and we have no time to waste.”
Each of the 10 insights included in the report was reviewed by leading scientists so to provide a proper summary of the latest climate science. The report comes after recent publications by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which also warned over the need to act.
The world is not on track
The report warned that the world is not on track to meet the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, as stipulated in the Paris Agreement. Green energy is growing, and some countries are phasing out coal power, but at the same time, the fossil industry is expanding.
“This year was a bad one for the climate system and for humanity. We have more evidence than ever before of the impacts of climate change on communities across the globe,” Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and co-author of the report, said.
Climate change is faster and stronger than expected
Greenhouse gas emissions are growing at an unprecedented pace, according to the report. The world has already reached global warming of 1.1 degrees Celsius and is in line of exceeding the 1.5 degrees Celsius barrier by 2030, instead of the initial projections of 2040.
At the same time, sea-level is rising much faster than expected, now at three times higher than the average for the 20th century. There are signs of accelerated degradation in stable components of the Earth system such as Greenland, which could lead to a further sea-level rise.
Climate change leaves no mountain summit behind
Among those affected by climate change, mountains rank high. The level of snow, ice and permafrost are diminishing as well as glaciers, all affecting water availability and increasing natural hazards. More than a billion people worldwide could be affected because of this.
At the same time, climate change is also affecting the ecosystems in the mountains and their biodiversity. This is leading to a reduction of biodiversity hotspots and a growing number of species that go extinct every year. Indigenous and local knowledge could help reduce the damage, the report argued.
Forests are under threat, with global consequences
Global forests absorb about a third of the greenhouse gas emissions, making them major carbon dioxide sinks. Nevertheless, they are under risk because of human-driven forest fires – amplified by climate change.
A growing number of forest fires have been reported in the United States, Alaska, Canada, Russia, and Australia, mainly linked to a prolonged drought. At the same time, growing emissions from land-use changes were registered in western Ethiopia and western tropical Africa.
Weather extremes – a “new normal”
The idea of an extreme weather event is now being reconsidered because of climate change, the report argued. What was before considered rare in frequency and intensity now is part of the new normal, with extreme weather and climate events happening throughout the year.
This has had a cost not only an environmental cost but also material and human one, forcing societies to adapt to such events. Regions are being affected in many ways by rainfall extremes and heatwaves, unusual weather patterns and warmer and higher seas.
Biodiversity – threatened guardian of earth’s resilience
Global warming of between 1 and 2 degrees Celsius would lead to losses between 14% and 99% of biodiversity on land, coral reefs, and fish populations, according to the report.
Biodiversity is a key element of stable ecosystems as it provides carbon stocks and sinks, among many other services to humanity. It is the guardian of the Earth’s system resilience against disruption from greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change threatens food security and the health of hundreds of millions
One of the main health risks of climate change will be undernutrition, according to the report, as many regions will face a decline in agricultural productivity such as drylands in Africa and mountain regions in Asia and South America.
At the same time, a growing amount of greenhouse gases released to the atmosphere would reduce the nutritional quality of cereal crops. Agricultural yields are already being reduced because of climate change, especially in the tropics, as well as global fish stocks.
Most vulnerable and poor hardest hit by climate change
Not dealing with climate change would have negative consequences for hundreds of millions across the globe but the poorest are set to be the most affected, according to the report, affecting development in developing countries.
The poor are more vulnerable to climate events such as droughts, floods, high temperatures, and many other disasters, with a reduced capacity to adapt. The frequency of climate events is set to increase, which means escaping poverty will get more difficult.
More than 100 million people could be pushed below the poverty line by 2030, according to the report, while the number of climate migrants is also expected to grow.
Equity and equality pivotal to successful climate change mitigation and adaptation
Social justice is a key factor for societal change as part of climate change, the report argued. Inequality threatens the ability of the civilization to survive climate change and other environmental changes, having contributed in the past to the collapse of civilizations when resources were depleted.
Whether a climate policy is able to be successful or not will depend on social acceptance, with justice, fairness, and the equitable distribution of costs important for public support of policy and avoiding nationalist sentiments.
Time may have come for social tipping points on climate action
There is a growing number of people in many countries that are seriously concerned about climate change, according to many surveys. Recent massive climate protests also show that, with people asking for further climate action.
Nevertheless, the report argued, policy measures need to accompany behavioral change — and deep and long-term transformations driven by a great diversity of actors are needed to meet the Paris Agreement and the SDGs.
Extreme heatwaves, droughts and floods like we’ve never seen before — these are some of the most common extreme weather that will take place due to the climate crisis, according to a report presented at COP25.
These will represent massive challenges for poor countries but also for high-income ones across the world, the report claims, stressing the importance of immediate action.
The Global Climate Risk Index, a report by the think tank Germanwatch, showed that industrialized countries such as Japan and Germany were among the most affected ones last year because of heatwaves and droughts. The Philippines also ranked high due to record typhoons.
The report was presented at the COP25 climate summit in Madrid, Spain, where countries are trying to finish the rulebook to implement the Paris Agreement – signed in 2015 to limit the temperature growth to 2 degrees Celcius.
When looking at longer-term, poor countries faced most of the impacts. From 1999 to 2018, seven of the ten most affected countries are developing ones with low or lower middle income per capita. Puerto Rico, Myanmar, and Haiti were the most affected ones.
The report also showed that in the past 20 years almost 500,000 deaths were directly linked to more than 12,000 extreme weather events that happened across the globe. The economic damages amounted to approximately US$3.54 trillion, calculated in purchasing-power parity.
“The Climate Risk Index shows that climate change has disastrous impacts especially for poor countries, but also causes increasingly severe damages in industrialized countries like Japan or Germany”, says David Eckstein of Germanwatch. “Countries like Haiti, Philippines and Pakistan are repeatedly hit by extreme weather events and have no time to fully recover.”
The most significant cause of damage last year was heatwaves, according to the report. Among the most affected countries, Germany, Japan and India suffered from long periods of extreme heat. This is in line with recent findings that showed a link between climate change and the frequency and severity of heatwaves.
The report also showed that single exceptional disasters have had a strong impact on many countries, such as Haiti, Philippines, and Pakistan, recurrently affected by catastrophes and usually present on the ranking of those most affected.
“The climate summit needs to address the so far lacking of additional climate finance to help the poorest people and countries in dealing with losses and damages. They are hit hardest by climate change impacts because they lack the financial and technical capacity to deal with the losses and damages,” Laura Schaefer of Germanwatch said.