CNN  — 

The message from climate activists was passionate, the warning from the scientific community and countries already experiencing the effects of climate change, urgent. The action from world powers has been excruciatingly slow and inadequate.

What had been scheduled as a 12-day summit aimed at hammering out the rules of the 2015 Paris Climate accord, instead dragged on two extra days and highlighted the huge disconnect between the world’s biggest polluting nations, and the global community demanding change.

Negotiators in Madrid worked through the night to salvage a rulebook for cutting greenhouse gas emissions before 2020, when signatories must start meeting those targets.

Yet even after extending overtime, many observers, scientists and climate activists called the resulting agreement a monumental failure, strewn with watered-down language that kicks urgent items down the road to COP26 in 2020.

Host country Spain said Sunday’s agreement “expresses the urgent need” for new carbon-cutting commitments. Critics said the text falls short on decisive language for doing so.

“As time ran out, the COP looked more and more like a hostage situation inside a burning building – together with most negotiators, people and planet were held captive,” said May Boeve, Executive Director of climate campaign group, in a statement.

She added that, “after forcing negotiators to keep at it for three days straight,” the world’s biggest carbon emitters and fossil fuel industry “got what they wanted – a weakened text that kicks most of the big issues down the road to COP26.”

Helen Mountford, vice president for climate and economics at global research organization the World Resources Institute agreed. “There is no sugarcoating it,” she said. “The negotiations fell far short of what was expected. Instead of leading the charge for more ambition, most of the large emitters were missing in action or obstructive.

Scientists and activists were left exhausted by the grinding pace of negotiations at the annual meeting.

“The can-do spirit that birthed the Paris Agreement feels like a distant memory today.”

There was some glimmer of hope. Eighty governments – mostly developing and island nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change – have committed to bringing enhanced climate plans to COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, representing over 10% of global emissions, according to environmental communications experts, Climate Nexus.

It added that the United States “showed many different faces” at the summit. While negotiators blocked progress on some issues, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also led a 15-member Congressional delegation to assure the world that “we are still in.”

Sticking point

The summit featured almost 200 countries wrangling over the rules of the 2015 Paris climate accord. Its political foot-dragging was in stark contrast to impassioned pleas coming from campaigners.

On the verge of tears, Ugandan climate activist, Hilda Flavia Nakabuye, told CNN: “When you talk to people who are causing this [climate change] and they are not listening, it feels like you are wasting time.”

She was 10 years old when torrential rains stripped her family’s crops and drought forced them to sell their land and livelihood.

“I am the voice of dying children, displaced women, and people suffering at the hands of the climate crisis created by rich countries,” Nakabuye told conference members, willing delegates to recognize the scale of the environmental emergency.

“Voices from the global south deserve to be heard… we are humans who do not deserve to suffer a crisis that we did not create.”

Negotiators struggled to find common ground at the summit, especially over rules for a new global carbon trading market. It’s a major part of the Paris agreement, designed to reduce emissions of planet-warming gases, and has yet to be finalized.

The US, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, India and other big polluters are accused of obstructionist behavior while Australia and Brazil stand accused of seeking loopholes to recycle old carbon credits in order to meet their commitments under the Paris accord.