It’s a summit that could make or break the world’s climate commitments.
Around 25,000 people from 200 countries are descending on Madrid this week to attend the COP25 climate change conference. They include dozens of heads of state and government, business leaders, scientists and, of course, activists – including Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Sunday that the summit marks the “point of no return” in humanity’s fight against climate change.
Just getting there was tricky. The gathering was originally going to be hosted by Brazil. But the country dropped out under the then-newly elected president Jair Bolsonaro late last year, so the meeting moved to Chile. When violent anti-government protests erupted in Chile in October, the meeting was moved again, this time to the Spanish capital.
What is COP25, anyway?
Remember the Paris Climate Accord? Under the 2015 agreement, more than 200 nations committed to keep global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and, if possible, to less than 1.5 degrees above.
The world is now 1.1 degrees warmer than it was at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution – a change that has already had a profound effect on the planet and people’s lives.
COP – officially, the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change – is the body that makes sure the Paris agreement is implemented. The 25 signifies that this is the group’s 25th meeting.
But there are so many climate change conferences.
Yes, climate change is increasingly on the agenda, because its destructive effects are becoming more visible and impossible to ignore – even by the world’s most powerful people.
Just on Monday, a new report from Oxfam found that one person is forced out of their home every two seconds as a result of climate change.
Guterres said Sunday that “climate change is no longer a long-term problem.”
“We are confronted now with a global climate crisis,” he said. “The point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and hurtling towards us.”
That sounds a bit alarmist. Is COP25 really the ‘point of no return’?
Guterres has a point. While scientists have been making the connection between climate change and greenhouse gases for decades, emissions are still going up.
The Madrid meeting is the last gathering of the COP group before 2020, the year when the Paris agreement comes into effect.
When nations signed the deal back in 2015, they agreed that global emissions of greenhouse gases must peak in 2020 at the latest, and then start coming down – or the world will face disastrous and irreversible damage.
Under current scenarios, emissions will need to fall by 7.6% every year in the next decade.
That will require most countries to up their commitments ahead of the next COP meeting in Glasgow next November. According to the UN, if we rely only on the current climate plans, temperatures can be expected to rise by 3.2 degrees this century.
That sounds scary. Can we do anything to stop this?
Yes. But we need to act quickly.
To make meeting the reduction targets even remotely possible, global leaders must come up with a practical plan for cutting emissions in the next two weeks.