Attending COP25 UN Climate Conference in Madrid Spain

I was elated when I received a confirmation mail that I have been awarded a travel grant from the Forestry CBM Graduate Travel Award Fund to attend COP25 UN Climate Conference in Madrid, Spain. Upon arrival and carefully following the negotiation processes to the end, it is sad to note that the U.N Climate conference was not a huge success. There’s no doubt that these climate talks failed to deliver the climate justice the people and the planet so urgently need.

UN Secretary general Antonio Guterres said he was “disappointed” with the results of COP25 and that “the international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis”.

My interaction with some of the negotiators from different countries rightly point out that obstacles preventing a tangible consensus being reached and outcomes being produced include the roles governments like the U.S., EU, Australia, and Canada played to avoid responsibility in Big Polluters’ name, attempting to weaken an already-too-weak Paris Agreement.This year’s COP was supposed to be all about ambition, with countries stepping up their national actions. This was hoped to be expressed in several ways, such as: Countries improving their national climate plans under the Paris Agreement (known as NDCs or Nationally Determined Contributions),countries submitting long-term (2030 and 2050) climate plans, countries committing to increased climate finance for developing nations and developed countries outlining if and how they would take climate action before the Paris Agreement takes effect in 2020 (‘pre-2020 work programme’).  There was immense pressure to deliver ambitious climate plans and to conclude the rules for the Paris Agreement.

I also witnessed around 300 climate campaigners and indigenous rights activists expressing frustration and lack of progress at the UN Climate conference ejected from the venue for peacefully protesting the slow pace of the talks and the urgency suggested by the latest science. This action brought together people from different backgrounds including indigenous leaders, youth, women, gender non-conforming folks, scientists, heads of some of the largest mainstream NGOs, climate justice movement leaders in an unprecedented show of unity and shared demands. However, the unwelcoming response has laid bare for the world to see that the Global North at the UN Climate would rather listen to the polluters than the people who are mostly affected in a climate impacted society.

According to Arthur Wyns “In these times of climate emergency, we increasingly see how reducing emissions and adapting to climate change is no longer enough to prevent the losses and damages from climate change”. The Paris Agreement considers (Article 8) through an international mechanism to minimise and avert loss & damage from climate change (this is what is called the WIM). But whether this mechanism should just be providing support through information and best practices, or whether the largest polluters are liable for the damage’s climate change is causing (e.g. the US having to pay support to the people of the Bahamas hit by a climate-fueled cyclone) is very contentious.

This year’s UN Climate conference, COP25 became the longest on record when it concluded after lunch on Sunday, following more than two weeks of non-stop negotiations. It had been scheduled to wrap up on Friday. There has also never been as many indigenous representatives and youth voices present at the COP, and yet, there were no positive outcomes from the summit. Also, Countries could not succeed in creating a global carbon market, there was no decision on a timeline for national climate plans under the Paris Agreement, nor was there any agreement on new and additional finance for those countries most vulnerable to climate impacts. All in all, the only positive outcomes were the adoption of a Gender action plan, and a (relatively weak) call for more ambitious climate plans in 2020.

My sincere appreciation goes to my professors and program coordinator for their endorsement, the Mastercard Foundation Scholarship staff, Jinhyun Park and everyone who was there with me and made the COP25 an amazing, unforgettable experience. It was a great reunion with my dear YOUNGO and IFSA friends. It was also, an awesome experience, inspiring meetings and interviews with fellow youth, negotiators, activists and changemakers. I look forward to new projects and unique opportunities to raise my own voice as a representative of the young generation!

Susan Agber

Master of International Forestry