‘The eyes of the people are on us’: Anger boils over at climate summit as nations fail to agree serious commitments

Isabella Kaminski
Activist protest outside of the COP25 climate talks congress in Madrid: AP

Activists and campaigners have voiced their growing frustration at the lack of political progress on tackling carbon emissions as international climate talks in Madrid go into extra time.

Representatives of nations vulnerable to climate change, NGOs and activist groups, accused the world’s biggest economies meeting at the UN climate summit of “gutting” the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement.

The conference had been scheduled to end on Friday after two weeks of negotiations to try to hammer out the final details of the accord, but late on Saturday diplomats could still not come to an agreement.

At a press conference earlier in the day COP25’s presidency coordinator Andres Landeretche said the “vast majority of delegations are asking for a more ambitious text” but he expected there would have to be compromises. “The eyes of the people are on us,” he added.

Anger had been growing all week, after the talks got mired in two thorny issues: how to establish new international rules for carbon markets and how to help poorer countries pay for losses and damage caused by climate change.

On carbon markets, there was disagreement over whether to allow countries to “double-count” emissions cuts both for themselves and for countries they sell carbon offsets to. Australia, where intense wildfires have raged in recent weeks, was the subject of particular criticism for wanting to count over-performance in previous emission trading schemes towards future targets.

On Saturday, a group of countries including Costa Rica and Switzerland launched their own set of principles, which they said would lead to “fair and robust carbon markets” that would not allow double-counting or the reuse of old credits. More nations signed up to this as the day wore on.

On the issue of loss and damage, countries that had historically emitted large amounts of carbon emissions were still resisting any financial deal that might open them up to future compensation claims. The US, which is due to leave the Paris Agreement next year, was particularly vocal on this issue.

Sara Shaw, climate justice coordinator for Friends of the Earth International, said: “Here, we have witnessed the gutting of the already weak Paris Agreement, with the advance of dodgy carbon trading that will only exacerbate the climate crisis and harm southern communities. And we have seen a refusal by developed countries to pay up for loss and damage finance, while they try to introduce language that would remove their liability for the impacts their emissions have caused.”

There was also major disappointment that countries would not be encouraged to submit more ambitious national carbon-cutting plans next year. Some nations, including China and India, have already stated that they see no need to improve their current plans.

Tina Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, said the coalition her country was part of would “not walk away without a clear call for all countries to enhance their ambition next year”.

The final few days of the talks were particularly charged, with activists ramping up pressure on negotiators to come to a strong agreement. On Thursday, UN security officials blocked observers from entering the conference venue after Indigenous groups staged a sit-in protest.

In a less eloquent move, Extinction Rebellion delivered a pile of horse manure to the conference venue.

As the summit’s closing plenary was repeatedly pushed back on Saturday, a group of NGOs, trade unions and Indigenous groups held their own final meeting instead. Claiming to represent the majority of ordinary people outside the conference, they aimed to show what could have been delivered if the countries most historically responsible for the climate crisis and the biggest polluters “had not continued to advance their agendas”.

Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, said Chile, which had presided over the talks, had one job: “Protect the integrity of the Paris Agreement. And right now it is failing. It has listened to polluters, not the people.”

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