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Illustration by Liene Magdalēna

COP25: Our Climate Change Wishlist

What is at stake at the climate change conference COP 25 as it continues in Madrid, and what is going to determine its successes or failures?

From Dec. 2 to Dec. 13, Madrid is hosting the 2019 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as COP 25. The convention will discuss international climate change negotiations. NYU Abu Dhabi’s Student Interest Group Greenhouse has six students currently attending these negotiations. Greenhouse will be live streaming COP events in D2 next week. But why should we care about this conference in particular, and what is the worst that can happen over the next two weeks?
These negotiations are particularly important because next year the Paris Agreement officially goes into effect and countries’ intended [Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) become legally binding plans. This agreement aims to keep global average temperature increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius. It was adopted with great urgency in 2015, and negotiators have been working on fleshing out the practical elements of its implementation ever since.
At this conference, politics threatens to get in the way of progress. With a whopping 197 countries represented, this is completely normal. Countries often stall negotiations for days on end, debating minute subclauses and using up valuable time. With the stark contrast between the needs and goals of Annex I–developed and Non Annex I–developing countries, compromise is a difficult battle.
One particular political barrier to negotiations looms large. In 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump declared his country’s intentions to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Many countries may follow the lead of the U.S. as it slowly withdraws from negotiation rooms. This could potentially reduce funding or, in a nightmare scenario for our planet, dismantle the agreement altogether.
However, there are many possible outcomes that are not so catastrophic. The withdrawal officially comes into effect on Nov. 4 2020. This is one day after the next U.S. presidential election. The withdrawal largely depends on the outcome of the election. In fact, a Democratic win could mean there is still hope. All major Democratic presidential candidates have indicated that they would remain in the agreement, some with even more stringent climate goals than initially pledged.
There is also the possibility of other Annex I countries stepping in to fill the looming political void. This is not entirely unrealistic, and has historically occurred. The U.S. recently withdrew funding for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This is the all-important source of international scientific knowledge and predictions on climate change. The U.S. was responsible for a significant 45 percent of funding. In response to the U.S.’s departure, President of France, Emmanuel Macron, announced that Europe would cover any shortfall.
It seems that there are reasons to hope. So what would be the best outcome from this conference? In short, more money and more ambition.
Money is obviously critical to an effective response to climate change. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is mandated in the Paris Agreement to contribute, from 2020, $100 billion USD per year to climate adaptation and mitigation projects in non-Annex I countries. At this stage, the fund is woefully underfinanced and the pressure is on Annex I countries to make more significant donations. Another crucial and underfunded mechanism is the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) mandated in Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, which addresses Loss and Damage. As yet, there is no clear funding mechanism in place, especially regarding slow onset issues such as sea level rise. Annex I countries are yet to move beyond rhetoric, to construct legal pathways and actually provide affected countries with concrete funds and resources as compensation.
Countries also need to dramatically increase the ambition of their NDCs before next year. Executive Secretary of the UN Climate Change Patricia Espinosa recently stated that “current NDCs are inadequate” and that “if we stay on our current trajectory, it’s estimated that global temperatures could more than double by the end of this century.”
When our countries begin the hard work of creating infrastructure, we need to be sure that the hard work will pay off. As these NDCs come into force next year, it is critical that countries increase the ambition of their pledges significantly in the next few days.
This best case scenario may seem overly optimistic. But there is a possibility that, especially in the last week of negotiations, our politicians feel the pressure to make more concrete financial pledges and more ambitious NDCs. International negotiations will always be hindered by politics, but we have the ability to compromise. The feat of bringing together 197 countries to sit down and negotiate binding international policies is impressive in its own right. We are on the right track.
Katie Glasgow-Palmer is a conrtibuting writer. Email her at
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