MADRID, Spain, December 3, 2019 (ENS) – The 25th annual UN Climate Change Conference, COP25, opened Monday in Madrid with many delegates sharing a sense of urgency to make progress on climate action before the Paris Climate Agreement comes into force next year.

Originally scheduled to take place in Chile, the meeting was moved to Madrid after weeks of ongoing civil protests against inequality and injustice across the South American country created an unsafe environment for international visitors.

At least 26 people have been killed in the Chilean unrest, and thousands have been detained and wounded. Marches, rallies and other protest actions continue on a daily basis across the country.

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Carolina Schmidt, Chile’s Environment Minister, is formally elected President of COP25. Dec. 2, 2019 Madrid, Spain (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)

Meanwhile, in Madrid on Monday, Chile’s Environment Minister Carolina Schmidt was formally elected President of COP25. In her acceptance speech, she reminded delegates that work still needs to be taken forward at COP25 which can then be captured in improved national climate action plans under the Paris Agreement next year.

“We need to make new and more ambitious commitments which include all of the aspects of climate action: mitigation, adaptation, and means of implementation,” Schmidt said. “The main vehicle to stimulate more ambition is the Nationally Determined Contributions.”

Still, Chile’s environmental organizations will not be silenced. In Chile’s capital Santiago on Monday, more than 100 environmental groups launched their parallel 10-day conference on day one of the official COP25 conference in Madrid.

“The social crisis is also an ecological crisis,” Chile’s Civil Society for Climate Action declares in its announcement of the gathering in Santiago, where a people’s forum and other parallel events are taking place this week.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera is not attending COP25 in Madrid, but he sent a video on Monday. “It hurts not to be in Madrid today, but I feel it is my duty to be in Chile confronting the hard times we have been experiencing,” Pinera said, expressing his belief that COP25 will be a move towards a healthier planet.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at the opening ceremony in Madrid that with climate change impacts becoming ever more dangerous and apparent, COP25 must convey to the world a firm determination to change course.

“We must finally demonstrate that we are serious in our commitment to stop the war against nature – that we have the political will to reach carbon neutrality by 2050,” he said.

Enabling International Carbon Markets

Guterres reminded COP25 delegates that the key objective of the conference is to reach progress on key items, especially on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement relating to carbon markets and continuing to boost ambition in preparation for new and revised national climate action plans due next year.

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses thousands of delegates from around the world as he opens the UN’s annual climate conference, COP25, Dec. 2, 2019, Madrid, Spain (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)

Article 6 would allow for international carbon markets. For example, country A could pay for country B to build a wind farm instead of a coal-fired power plant. Emissions are reduced, country A gets credit for the reductions and country B benefits from clean energy.

Writing Monday on the World Resources Institute (WRI) blog, Kelley Kizzier from the Environmental Defense Fund, Kelly Levin from WRI, and Mandy Rambharos, Article 6 negotiator, South Africa, said finalizing the rules on how countries can reduce their emissions using international carbon markets, covered under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement is “top-of-mind” at COP25.

“Article 6 is one of the least accessible and complex concepts of the global accord,” they wrote. “This complexity was a major reason that Article 6 was not agreed to until the last morning of the Paris negotiations in 2015 and was left unresolved at the Katowice climate talks last year.”

“Getting these rules right is critical for fighting climate change: depending on how they are structured, Article 6 could help the world avoid dangerous levels of global warming or let countries off the hook from making meaningful emissions cuts,” they wrote. “The integrity of the Paris Agreement and countries’ climate commitments hang in the balance.”

Secretary-General Guterres told the COP25 delegates, “To put a price on carbon is vital if we are to have any chance of limiting global temperature rise and avoiding runaway climate change. Operationalizing Article 6 will help get markets up and running, mobilize the private sector, and ensure that the rules are the same for everyone.”

Held on the last year before the Paris Agreement takes effect in 2020, COP25 must also advance work related to capacity-building, deforestation, indigenous peoples, cities, finance, technology, and gender, among other important issues.

And COP25 also must complete several technical matters to achieve the full operationalization of the transparency framework under the Paris Agreement.

Guterres said he expects all governments to commit to review their national climate action plans – Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs – with the necessary ambition to tackle the climate emergency in the course of the coming 12 months up to COP26, the date by which governments need to submit updated and enhanced plans.

He called on governments to ensure that at least US$100 billion a year is available to developing countries for measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to build resilience to climate change.

Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Hoesung Lee, spoke of the economic benefits of more ambitious climate action, which could generate opportunities for investment in innovation.

“These investments would generate powerful benefits spilling over to all sectors of society and the economy, making them cleaner, healthier and more resilient,” Lee said.

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Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Dec. 2, 2019, Madrid, Spain (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez underlined the importance of women in climate action, during his speech at the opening ceremony. Sanchez celebrated the memory of an American woman scientist, Eunice Foote, who in 1856 was first to identify the warming effect on the planet of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide.

“I wanted to start by evoking the memory of Eunice Foote for two reasons: first, to rescue her memory, and the memory of so many other women scientists, from the injustice of oblivion. Second, to remind everyone that it has been a long time since science started warning us about climate change,” said Prime Minister Sanchez.

“This double paradox is an invitation to reflect,” he said. “For so many decades, progress has been conceived without involving half of humanity, and at the same time, the notion of progress has not taken into account the physical limits that make human life viable on our planet.”

United States Not In But Not Out

The highest-profile United States official at COP25 in Madrid is not part of the official U.S. delegation. Nancy Pelosi of California, a Democrat, is Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and third in line to the U.S. Presidency.

Pelosi contradicted President Donald Trump, a Republican, who has formally notified the UN that the United States is leaving the Paris Agreement in 2020.

But Pelosi told reporters in Madrid, “By coming here we want to say to everyone we are still in, the United States is still in.” She said Congress will urgently pursue action to avert climate change.

Ambassador Marcia Bernicat, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, is the U.S. head of delegation to COP25. The delegation includes officials from the Department of State, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Treasury, the Department of Agriculture, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

In November, President Trump formally started the process of pulling the United States, the world’s largest economy, out of the Paris Agreement. Trump first announced his intention to withdraw in June 2017. He has long believed that the Paris Agreement would cripple U.S. economic growth and weaken American sovereignty.

On November 4, 2019, the United States deposited with the United Nations its notification of withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. According to the terms of that Agreement, the United States will remain party to it until November 4, 2020.

The action begins a year-long process that could end in the United States exit from the near-universal accord. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the action on Twitter and released a statement saying the accord would impose intolerable burdens on the American economy.

“The U.S. approach incorporates the reality of the global energy mix and uses all energy sources and technologies cleanly and efficiently, including fossils fuels, nuclear energy, and renewable energy,” Pompeo said.

American participation in the Paris Agreement will, in fact, be determined by the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Cycling for Climate

A group of e-cyclists ended a 200-kilometer journey from Salamanca in northwestern Spain to COP25 in Madrid on Sunday, after biking for a week to show support for the climate negotiations and to dramatize the importance of addressing climate change with greater ambition and urgency.

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Moving for Climate NOW cyclers pedal uphill in the rain, on their way to COP25 in Madrid. November 209 (Photo courtesy UNFCCC)

The group is part of the cycling initiative, now in its fifth year, “Moving for Climate NOW,” organized by the Spanish energy utility Iberdrola with support from UN Climate Change. This year’s team included 50 cyclists from multilateral institutions, academia, climate policymakers, businesses, youth, and civil society.

The cyclists were welcomed in Madrid by the UN Climate Change Deputy Executive Secretary, Ovais Sarmad; the EU Commissioner for Climate and Energy Action, Miguel Arias Cañete; the COP25 High-Level Climate Action Champion, Gonzalo Muñoz; and the CEO of Iberdrola, Ignacio Galán.

The cyclists carried to Madrid a “Manifesto to Combat Climate Change,” which calls for increased climate ambition and a shift towards scenarios that limit the increase in global average temperatures to 1.5ºC if we can achieve zero net emissions by 2050.

Iberdrola has also partnered with the UN Global Climate Action Awards to support this year’s winners under the Women for Results category. Due to Iberdrola’s support, representatives from four of these award-winning, women-led climate solutions have been funded to attend COP25 in Madrid, where their award-winning projects will be officially recognized and celebrated.

This year’s Women for Results winners are:

* – Campaign for Female Education’s Climate-Smart Agriculture Guides, Sub-Saharan Africa: Training young women from marginalized farming communities to become Agriculture Guides.

* – Mothers Out Front, United States: A movement of over 24,000 mothers mobilizing for a liveable climate for their children.

* – Women’s Action Towards Climate Resilience in South Asia, Bangladesh, India, and Nepal: Empowering women in low-income households to increase their climate resilience.

* – Eco Wave Power, Israel, Gibraltar: A world-leading project generating clean energy from the ocean, co-founded and led by a female CEO.

About the UN’s Climate Agency: UNFCCC

With 197 Parties, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has near-universal membership and is the parent treaty of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement. The UNFCCC is also the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

It is headed by Patricia Espinosa, a Mexican politician and diplomat who previously served as Secretary of Foreign Affairs in the cabinet of President Felipe Calderón.

The main aim of the Paris Agreement is to keep a global average temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The ultimate objective of all agreements under the UNFCCC, the agency says, is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, in a time frame that allows ecosystems to adapt naturally and enables sustainable development.

To keep pace with the COP25 negotiations, visit this overview of UNFCCC and COP25 Presidency social media channels: https://unfccc.int/virtual-participation-cop25

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