In 1992, the nations of the world met in Rio de Janeiro and agreed that they had a responsibility to respond to the reality of climate change. They created the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and agreed that the participating nations would meet once a year. The meetings are called the Conference of Parties, and the 25th such meeting was held in Madrid from Dec. 2 through Dec. 15.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Spain’s caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez shake hands at the COP 25 climate summit in Madrid on Dec. 2. Associated Press//Andrea Comas

The Conference of Parties, meeting in Paris in 2015, developed the Paris Agreement, which calls for all nations in this agreement to reduce significantly their emissions of greenhouse gases, the cause of climate change, so that the world can reach net zero emissions by 2050.

A number of good things happened:

The Gender Action plan passed the conference. It seeks to advance the role of women in combating climate change.

There was a very strong show of support for the work on the climate crisis. There was a march Dec. 6 through Madrid. Organizers say around 500,000 people took part in the demonstrations. Officials have not given a figure.

Many nations formed the High Ambition Coalition to ensure that the world reaches net zero emissions by 2050. They include the European Union, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Ethiopia and many Pacific island states.

The U.S. Climate Alliance, consisting of states, cities, universities and other entities, gave many reports on the good work being done in the U.S. to reach the goal of the Paris Agreement.

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish 16-year-old, was present leading the rest of us in calling for which serious reductions of greenhouse gases.

The science is so clear. There have been seven reports in the last several months describing the crisis that will happen if we do not take serious action.

Both Canada and the EU pledged to get to net zero by 2050.

Yet, on the other hand, COP 25 was very disappointing, and it is going to require a lot of work for nations, organizations, churches, and individuals who are trying to protect their grandchildren to get the world to net zero by 2050. On the agenda of this meeting were several important items:

A central task of COP 25 was to send a clear message to countries that it is imperative that they pledge to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by a significant amount. The promised reductions have to be made by the start of COP 26 next year. To date, commitments made by countries under the Paris Agreement are not ambitious enough to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The United States, which is scheduled to withdraw from the Paris Agreement the day after the 2020 election, and other big polluters blocked a nonbinding measure that would have encouraged countries to adopt more ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions next year. China and India joined the United States in pushing back against more emphatic language.

The second disappointment was carbon trading. One of the mechanisms that nations can use to get to net zero is buying and selling carbon emissions. Using this strategy, a nation with high greenhouse-gas emissions can purchase the right to emit greenhouse-gas emissions from a nation that has successfully reduced its emissions. But this trading process must produce a real reduction of emissions, and that did not happen.

Another important issue is “loss and damage.” Developing countries have to deal with the significant damage that the climate crisis has caused, but they can’t afford to do so. For instance, the Pacific island of Kiribati has already suffered because of sea level rise. That nation has had to purchase land on Fiji, so that they have a place to live once Kiribati becomes uninhabitable in about 10 years.

Loss and damage would hold the developed world legally liable for these damages because they are the countries most responsible for greenhouse-gas emissions. Several developed countries pushed back.

After the Madrid meeting? There is just a lot more work to do.


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