A Process on the Brink of Collapse Confronts a World on the Move


The governments gathered in Madrid failed to embrace the urgent need for progress towards climate justice and higher ambitions.


As COP-25 concluded in Madrid, a consensus emerged among key actors monitoring the talks: Governments attending the COP had failed the people and the planet by refusing to adopt meaningful decisions and to commit to enhance climate action despite the urgency. Even the UN Secretary General expressed his disappointment regarding the outcomes, noting that “the international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation, and finance to tackle the climate crisis.”

The year leading up to the COP had set the stage for what was going to be a particularly challenging conference with the growing chasm between people’s aspirations and governments’ inaction more visible than ever.

Never before had we seen so many young people marching in the streets of major cities across the entire planet demanding urgent climate action.

Never before had we been warned with so much insistence about the collapse of our ecosystems and the risks facing the human species if it continues to ignore its dependence on biodiversity.

Never before had we witnessed people in so many countries rallying to denounce the growing social inequalities and lack of justice.

Yet the governments gathered in Madrid failed to embrace the need for progress towards climate justice and higher ambition.

Situation in Chile

The struggle to find a host country for the COP is emblematic of the challenging political environment in which this year’s negotiations took place. Although Brazil was the original confirmed host of COP-25, the far-right government of Jair Bolsonaro withdrew the offer to host shortly after the Brazilian election, setting the stage for a year in which Brazil would transition from being an important proponent of climate action to occupying a position of active climate denial and obstruction. After Brazil withdrew, Chile immediately -during COP24- offered to host the COP in partnership with Costa Rica. But mere weeks before the COP was expected to begin in Santiago and after planning for the conference had already been finalized, an unprecedented wave of social unrest, spurred by rising social inequalities and the incapacity of the Chilean government to find a solution to address the social demands, forced Chilean President Sebastian Piñera to withdraw Chile’s offer to host the conference in Santiago.

After days of uncertainty and with less than five weeks before the COP’s scheduled start date, Spain announced that it would host the COP in Madrid with Chile still retaining the Presidency. While Spain’s decision rescued the COP from further delay at a moment when there is no time to waste for urgent climate action, the shift of the COP to a new country on a new continent raised additional barriers to participate for both small States and hundreds of civil society organizations-including social movements and indigenous peoples- throughout Chile and across Latin America that had invested heavily in public mobilizations around the COP.

Despite COP’s move to Madrid, both the Chilean Civil Society for Climate Action SCAC (Sociedad Civil por la Acción Climática) and the People´s Summit proceeded with the planned parallel summits in Santiago. Although international participation significantly declined from what had been expected and international press was largely absent, both platforms organized excellent workshops, expert panels, and cultural activities in Santiago, Chile. One of the key messages in the context of the country still shaking with political unrest was the intricate relationship between human rights and climate change issues. The Latin American organizations present at the Climate Action Summit in Santiago and Madrid summarized their demands in a Latin American Manifest for Climate Action, which was simultaneously published in both cities on December 9. The Declaration emphasized the importance of human, indigenous, and women’s rights in the international and regional climate agenda, as well as the importance of environmental justice for solving the region’s current social and climate crises.

While NGOs with access to more financial resources and networks managed to relocate their activities to Madrid, many of the smaller ones did not have the capacity to do so. This was not the only disappointment for those who had hoped for a stronger Latin American participation in the climate negotiations. Particularly unfortunate was the impasse in the opening session on December 2 in which the Chilean presidency lacked tact and failed to build a strong alliance between the countries from Latin America and the Caribbean, especially with the more progressive blocks like AILAC (Asociación Independiente de America Latina y Caribe), that would have been helpful to counter the regional climate denier, Brazil. This was particularly unfortunate as the countries of the region that are highly vulnerable to climate change had set their hopes on a “Latin American COP,” where their concerns and priorities on loss and damage would find adequate space and voice.

Additionally, the limited political capital of the Chilean presidency and the dismal human rights record of the country leading into the COP were further factors that contributed to the meager results of the negotiations. Alejandro Alemán of Climate Action Network, Latin America, complained that the “limited results of this conference are a reflection of the social and political circumstances in many countries of our region, but particularly of those in the country which holds the Presidency of the COP 25 (Chile). The disappointing results show that the transition to more sustainable societies are more challenging when the bases of democracy and human rights erode”. The Chilean Civil Society for Climate Action criticized publicly that “Chilean leadership was not up to the challenges and more aligned with the interests of polluter industries than the needs of the citizens.” They also voiced their concern about the government’s lack of responsiveness to the social demands raised by citizens and its insistence on not signing the Escazú Agreement, which would help to protect human rights defenders and guarantee citizens’ participation in climate policies and environmental issues.

Protesters carry sign saying "feminists demand climate justice"


The absence of political leadership at COP-25 resulted in the undermining of two essential principles of the UN climate change process: ambition and climate justice (we will come back to the latter later in this report).

COP-25 was set with the challenging task of addressing the urgency to enhance mitigation ambition. Both the credibility of the Paris Agreement and the viability of the temperature limits agreed upon in 2015 depend to a large extent on the willingness of countries to put forward enhanced commitments before the end of 2020. Indeed, the increasingly dire warnings released by the IPCC and the scientific community over the preceding year highlighted the urgent need for increased ambition not only after 2020, but before. Climate urgency emerged as a key theme throughout the year, both in response to the mobilization of Fridays For Future and of millions of people mobilizing across the planet, and as a result of climate impacts taking an increasing toll. Three months before the COP, the UN Secretary General attempted to build momentum for enhanced action by convening a Climate Action Summit in New York. The Summit disappointed, however, as none of the high-emitting countries committed to increase their ambition prior to the end of 2020. While 67 countries promised more ambitious targets in the coming 12 months, these countries represent only 8 percent of global emissions.

Despite the urgent need to challenge this status quo and mobilize far greater ambition ahead of next year’s crucial window to enhance climate commitments, the COP-25 agenda failed to make explicit provision for ambition. Consequently, the importance of strengthening climate ambition was primarily reflected in only two elements of the political decisions adopted at the COP. First, the political decision adopted in Madrid includes some convoluted references to the importance of enhancing climate commitments next year in line with the highest possible ambition. The careful drafting of these references, and the absence of an unequivocal call for Parties to deliver the level of mitigation ambition required to match the objectives of the Paris Agreement, reveals the resistance of many key players to uphold their commitments to keep temperatures below 1.5º of warming. Second, governments sought to continue to highlight the initiatives of so called non-Party stakeholders (primarily sub-national governments and businesses), despite the fact that these initiatives lack accountability and follow-up mechanisms that would ensure any announced action actually results in the emission reductions committed.

The European Union was the only major emitter to make a significant announcement during COP-25 as Ursula von der Leyen, the newly appointed President of the European Commission, communicated its vision for the European Green Deal. Released halfway through the COP, the Commission’s economy-wide plan includes the ambition to make Europe the first “carbon neutral continent” through massive investments in sustainable solutions and a series of measures addressing all key sectors of the economy. While many measures of this economy-wide plan constitute real progress compared to previous policies, the Commission’s “Green Deal” falls short of expectations on several accounts.

Firstly, and despite the reference to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s transformative reforms in the 1930s, the European Green Deal relies largely on private actors to accelerate decarbonization, rather than on governmental reforms and directives. While the European Green Deal refers to the importance of a just transition and offers measures to ensure that no worker is left behind through the decarbonization of the continent, the deal remains primarily focused on ensuring the competitiveness of EU businesses and in providing economic incentives for business actors. The plan also fails to promote justice, as it ignores both the pleas of developing countries and the EU’s responsibility towards them; when the Deal refers to third countries it is primarily in the context of trade competition. Furthermore, the Deal does not seek to promote accountability for those corporations most responsible for the climate crisis. Despite its name, the Commission’s plan has very little in common with the Green New Deals put forward in the US or in the UK.

Secondly, and perhaps most irresponsibly from the perspective of the Paris Agreement, the Commission announced that its Green Deal would propose in summer 2020 an enhanced mitigation target of 50 percent to 55 percent emissions reductions by 2030. This announcement misses the mark in two key ways. Primarily, this range of emissions reductions would not be compatible with the objective to prevent most dangerous climate impacts as committed under the Paris Agreement. To uphold its commitment under the Agreement, the EU would need to reduce its emissions by at least 65 percent by 2030. Additionally, this announcement is a dangerous step back from the earlier commitment of the Commission to put forward a proposal regarding its enhanced ambition within the first 100 days of its mandate. Given the timeframe for EU decision making, a proposal by the Commission in summer 2020 would have little chance of being endorsed by the Member States in time to meet the deadline for the communication of new commitments before the COP-26 in Glasgow. Unless it reconsiders this timeline and level of ambition, the EU risks further abandoning its role as a compliant bloc, and could set a dangerous example for other governments to follow.

In Madrid, some developing countries successfully brought attention back to the failure of developed countries to reduce their emissions significantly over the past decade. When governments agreed in 2011 to negotiate a new framework agreement applicable to all countries -what would become the Paris Agreement- developing countries insisted on the responsibility of developed countries to lead in mitigation ambition prior to 2020. Reports issued by the UN during the COP pointed at the limited implementation of this commitment by Annex 1 countries - those considered industrialised or in transition at the time of signing the UNFCCC - revealing that Annex I countries that had not gone through a de-industrialization following the fall of the Soviet Union reduced their emissions by a mere 1.8 percent between 1990 and 2017. Holding developed countries accountable for their responsibility in the climate crisis and for their failure to deliver the leadership they committed to in 1992 is crucial for climate justice. Moving forward, however, it remains unclear whether Like-Minded Developing Countries will use this emphasis on failed progress by Annex I countries as a sword to secure increased commitments - including financial commitments - from industrialised countries or as a shield to justify their own delayed action. In the latter case, this would risk further undermining the prospects of meeting the vital temperature limits adopted in the Paris Agreement.

Success in Delay: Lack of agreement on rules for markets under Article 6 prevents undermining of the Paris Agreement

Article 6 was the hot topic of COP-25. As the main unfinished piece of the Paris Rulebook following COP-24 in Katowice, the Chilean Presidency and Parties arrived in Madrid keen to finish Article 6 as the “primary” outcome of this COP. This focus created pressure on Parties to get a deal done, and it overshadowed other critical aspects of COP-25 such as loss and damage. This pressure to secure an agreement on Article 6 was somewhat at odds with the commitment to ensure environmental integrity and made many in civil society (including many who believe that there is no need or place for the markets created by Article 6 at all) fear that Parties would agree to bad rules just for the purpose of getting the deal done. 

A core concern of many Parties and observers alike was ensuring that the Article 6 mechanisms did not undermine the environmental integrity of the Paris Agreement. Negotiations largely focused on two concerns: avoiding double counting through the application of corresponding adjustments and strong accounting rules, and disallowing the carryover of Kyoto Protocol credits to countries’ NDCs. Most countries seemed to agree on the need to avoid double counting, with Brazil being the lone vocal opponent questioning the application of corresponding adjustments initially.  Alternatively, the carryover of credits from the Kyoto mechanisms, in particular the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), proved to be a serious sticking point. Given that the emissions for which CDM credits have been awarded have already occurred, the majority of countries advocated against allowing this carryover as it would undermine ambition and the integrity of the Paris Agreement. A few countries, however, including Brazil, India, and Australia, all advocated for allowing the carryover of these old credits into the new system. Australia, in particular, explicitly plans to use old CDM credits to help achieve its NDC, thus replacing meaningful action with hot air and junk credits.

The overall mitigation of global emissions was another main topic of discussion. AOSIS pushed to ensure that Article 6 activities would lead to overall mitigation through the automatic partial cancellation of credits at issuance. This would mean that some credits would never be used by any country, thus achieving emissions reductions rather than trading offsets around the globe. While this began to gain some traction, there remained significant debate about whether it should only apply to activities under the Article 6.4 mechanism, or if it should also be related to activities under article 6.2, with the latest text only applying an automatic cancellation to the former.

As the Article 6 negotiations continued into overtime at COP-25, Costa Rica separated itself from its year-long alliance with Chile and released the “San Jose Principles”, which put forth a shared vision of numerous countries, which over the course of the final 24 hours grew to over 30 countries. Negotiated at pre-COP discussions, these eleven principles set forth minimum standards to be met by the Article 6 rules. The San Jose Principles largely centered on preserving environmental integrity and emphasizing the need to ensure that Article 6 activities actually increase ambition and lead to emissions reduction.

Notably absent from the San José Principles, but present within the negotiations themselves, was the discussion of human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. One of the prime concerns highlighted by numerous civil society groups and Indigenous Peoples organizations was that Article 6 activities would repeat past mistakes and lead to human rights violations. Thus, these groups focused considerable advocacy on ensuring that the rules for Article 6 include references to the protection of human rights. Coming into COP-25 very few countries, namely Tuvalu, Switzerland, Mexico, and Costa Rica, had mentioned that the rules should include human rights. However, over the course of COP-25 these countries were joined by Canada, who advocated for the expansion of the rights paragraph to include the rights of Indigenous Peoples, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, and, eventually, the EU. However, despite these calls, the final text developed by the Chilean presidency did not include critical elements related to human rights or social and environmental safeguards, and only included the potential development of safeguards in 2028. Had this outrageous proposal been adopted, Parties would have knowingly allowed the Paris Agreement’s mechanisms to contribute to harmful actions, repeating past mistakes that would destroy the environment, harm communities, and condone human rights violations for at least nine years, if not more.  

Ultimately, these differences in view and Parties’ commitments to environmental integrity meant that, in the end, COP-25 ended without having agreed upon rules for Article 6. While almost all countries expressed their disappointment during the closing plenary, they did highlight the critical aspects of ensuring environmental integrity and, notably, Tuvalu, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia noted that the final rules for Article 6 must include protections for human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

While Parties expressed disappointment in this lack of outcome, many in civil society deemed it a success to have avoided creating bad rules that would have left open the possibility of accounting loopholes that would have led to double counting of emission reductions, carryover of previous Kyoto credits, and human rights abuses. Experience from the Kyoto mechanism demonstrates that once rules are developed, governments rarely, if ever, upgrade them later to fix loopholes. Thus, if bad rules had been adopted, they would have locked undermining the social and environmental integrity into implementation of the Paris Agreement. Additionally, there are serious concerns that the markets created under Article 6 will just allow for the trading of offsets around the world when what is needed is serious reductions in emissions. It has been argued that keeping global temperature rise below 1.5℃ does not allow for offsets. Thus, between the threat of bad rules and the inherent concerns over the markets themselves undermining ambition, the lack of an outcome on Article 6 was seen by many as a positive.      

Looking forward, discussions on Article 6 will continue in Bonn at SB-52. All three Presidency texts will form the basis for moving forward with an aim to finish them at COP-26 in Glasgow. It will be critical for Parties to maintain their stance on ensuring that the rules comply with the San Jose Principles, as well as incorporate protections for human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Anything less will undermine the integrity of the Paris Agreement and further jeopardize the ability to combat the climate crisis.

Protesters with signs about Amazon River
Brazilians protested for rights at the headwaters of the Amazon River

Recognition of the need to better support those at the frontline of climate impacts but no concrete commitments to do so

In the months leading to the COP, the intense focus on Article 6 overshadowed the fact that COP-25 was also mandated to make progress towards addressing the loss and damage caused by climate change. This issue is of prime importance for the countries most vulnerable to climate impacts, who currently carry the majority of the costs associated with a changing climate. More specifically, COP-25 was mandated to conclude the review the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM) established in 2014. Over the past five years, the WIM and the expert bodies it established have contributed to mapping the needs of impacted communities and countries at the frontlines of the climate crisis and of exploring the governance responses that could contribute to addressing these gaps.

Over this period, however, the WIM had actually done little to address developing countries’ need for support as faced increasing human and economic costs of climate change. With neither a fund nor a financial mechanism established to channel support for loss and damage, developing countries have been left without remedy as they face the mounting costs of climate inaction by the largest emitters. While developed countries often point to humanitarian assistance as a means to provide support for the damages caused by extreme weather events, this support remains grossly inadequate and fails to cover the costs associated with slow onset events.

The most vulnerable countries therefore focused their demands at COP-25 on the need to strengthen the institutional capacity of the WIM through the establishment of an “implementation arm” to deliver on its third priority: “Enhancing action and support, including finance, technology and capacity-building, to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.” The decision adopted in Madrid reflected this request with the inclusion of several references to the “importance of scaling up the mobilization of resources to support efforts to avert, minimize and address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change”. Additionally the decision also mandates the WIM to work with relevant bodies including the Green Climate Fund to facilitate access to international finance for projects addressing loss and damage and mandated the establishment of a WIM expert group on action and support. Finally, in an effort to strengthen support for implementation, the decision established a “Santiago network for averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change” to catalyze the initiatives already taking place.

These developments, though positive, will ultimately do little to ameliorate the fundamental struggle facing the most impacted countries: only marginal resources are available to support those at the frontlines of climate impacts. Every additional ton of carbon emitted effectively increases this financial burden. In this context, the reference in the Madrid decision to “the wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance” supposedly available to address loss and damage appears at best as wishful thinking if not pure hypocrisy.

In Madrid, the United States also attempted to limit the scope of the discussion related to loss and damage to the implementation of the Paris Agreement, clearly seeking to avoid any responsibility for loss and damage as it withdraws from the Paris Agreement in November 2020. Giving a voice to the dismay of many, Ian Fry, the lead negotiator of Tuvalu, called out the United States during the final plenary for taking a position constituting a “tragedy and a travesty” for those most vulnerable to climate change. “There are millions of people all around the world who are already suffering from the impacts of climate change. Denying this fact could be interpreted by some to be a crime against humanity," he declared. Having failed to seize the opportunity to unite regional support, the Chilean presidency indicated during the final hours of the negotiations that no agreement could be reached as to whether the WIM should also be relevant to Parties outside of the Paris Agreement - effectively handing the United States what it wanted.

The Latin American members of the Climate Action Network expressed their disappointment that Parties were not able to explicitly recognize the link between the violation of human rights and the effects of the climate crisis on vulnerable communities. This intersection is key to climate justice; better climate governance ensures that human rights of vulnerable communities are protected.

Many civil society organizations, including CAN Latin America and the Vulnerable Central America Forum, consider it unacceptable that developed countries are not fulfilling their obligations to financially compensate for climate-related damages and losses suffered by communities in the region. It is essential to create a new financial infrastructure that channels additional funds expeditiously to address the climatic emergency. Leaving it under institutions such as the Green Climate Fund with highly bureaucratic and tedious mechanisms does not guarantee that resources will arrive on time, nor if they arrive at all. Likewise, funds destined for adaptation and mitigation cannot compete with financing for losses and damages.

Towards a greater recognition of the importance of gender and of Indigenous Peoples and their traditional knowledge for climate action

Governments did recognize the leadership of Indigenous Peoples and civil society and made progress towards greater acknowledgement of the linkages between social inequalities and climate impacts through a series of references and decisions dedicated to these issues. The opening sentence of the political decision adopted in Madrid stressed that Parties were “cognizant of the efforts and concerns of civil society, in particular of youth and indigenous peoples, in calling for urgent and ambitious global climate action.” Regretfully, this awareness clearly failed to inspire governments to take the step change in ambition as called for in the streets.

The COP successfully reviewed and renewed the UNFCCC Gender Action Plan, adopting a five-year roadmap to promote gender equality in the implementation of climate action. While the prospects for these negotiations seemed dim halfway through the conference as some governments sought to renegotiate and weaken agreed language from previous decisions, the final decision on gender retained critical references to the linkages between gender equality, human rights, and a just transition, and recognized the challenges that Indigenous Peoples face when seeking climate action. The new work plan promises to contribute to increasing the mainstreaming of gender across all climate action, including through increased capacity-building and the implementation of climate-just solutions.

The decision also contained important statements that are surprisingly progressive for a text adopted under the auspices of the UNFCCC as the parties recognized that “climate change impacts on women and men can often differ owing to historical and current gender inequalities and multidimensional factors”. This is the first ever reference to both discrimination and intersectionality in any decision adopted in the context of the UN climate talks.

While in Madrid, the Parties also endorsed the initial 2-year work plan of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, a body operationalized in 2017 in which representatives from governments and Indigenous Peoples organizations have seats with equal footing. The work plan provides a detailed roadmap for the increased recognition of the value of traditional Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge for designing and implementing climate action, as well as how to increase the participation of Indigenous Peoples in climate policies, including in the implementation of NDCs.

The decision on Loss and Damage also reiterated the importance for the implementation of the WIM to address “segments of the population that are already vulnerable owing to geography, socioeconomic status, livelihood, gender, age, indigenous or minority status, or disability”. This reference was initially drawn from the resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council and thereby echoes language more typically used under human rights frameworks.

These developments build upon the increasing recognition in the IPCC reports of the importance of considering these social dimensions of the climate crisis and of its root causes and impacts. While even these decisions trail behind existing legal frameworks and commitments made by all Parties to the Paris Agreement under relevant international human rights instruments, they bear the promise that intensive advocacy and capacity-building work of primarily representatives from Indigenous Peoples and gender advocates can pay off and influence future developments within the international climate change process.

Protesters carry a banner saying "indigenous justice is climate justice"
Protesters highlighted the connection between indigenous rights and the climate

The connection between the climate crisis and ecosystems, biodiversity, and “nature-based solutions”

From the outset, Chile had dubbed COP-25 a “Blue COP” to place greater emphasis on the link between oceans and climate change, a connection highlighted by the release of the IPCC report on the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate. Thus, this COP saw an increased number of events on oceans and climate change, including on linkages to NDCs and countries committing to including oceans in their NDCs. However, with this increased attention there was also a worrying event on ocean geoengineering that focused on how to govern “marine climate altering technologies”. Ultimately, in the final outcomes, Parties stressed the importance not only of oceans “as an integral part of the Earth’s climate system” but also in the context of the need to ensure the integrity of ocean and coastal ecosystems. Furthermore, they agreed to have a dialogue on oceans and climate change during the June meeting of the subsidiary bodies.

Ecosystems, biodiversity, and nature-based solutions also played a more prominent role at COP-25. The release of the IPBES report on biodiversity and ecosystem services, which painted a dire picture of the state of the world’s biodiversity, brought more light to the intersection between climate change and biodiversity. The climate crisis and biodiversity crisis are happening simultaneously and are inextricably intertwined. These interrelations were formally acknowledged in the “Chile Madrid Time for Action” decision in which Parties “underline[d] the essential contribution of nature to addressing climate change and its impacts and the need to address biodiversity loss and climate change in an integrated manner.” This recognition is particularly timely as the protection of biodiversity will rise in prominence next year as governments consider a new set of targets for nature conversation up to 2030 during the Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP-15. The decision adopted in Madrid also included that there would be a dialogue during the upcoming June meeting of the subsidiary bodies on the relationship between land and climate change, a proposal that Brazil vehemently, but fruitlessly, rejected in an attempt avoid any potential discussion regarding the contribution of deforestation to the climate crisis.

Further, in the lead up to COP-25, nature-based solutions were increasingly being acknowledged as an essential way to address the climate crisis, and even received its own track for discussion at the UN Secretary General’s summit in September 2019. COP-25 saw numerous side events on both land and marine “nature-based solutions.” However, what began as a term used to acknowledge the linkages between biodiversity and climate change, and to acknowledge the critical role that land and ecosystems can play in solving the climate crisis has started to become co-opted. This was most evident at an event featuring speakers from large oil companies discussing the importance of nature-based solutions. These developments demonstrate the increasing risk that the term “nature-based solutions” promotes both an agenda linked to the further commodification of nature while also being used by fossil fuel industries as a way to avoid transforming their business models, similar to their support for geoengineering techno-fixes.

Going forward, this concerning shift will have to be carefully monitored as the Standing Committee on Finance considers funding for nature-based solutions, the GCF develops guidance for its land and forestry sectors (and increases its REDD results based payment projects), and the negotiations on Article 6 continue with the potential for land (or, as at least one party suggested, REDD+) to be used for offsets as part of the market mechanisms.

Focus on increasing climate finance with little real commitment to do so

Throughout 2019, there was a considerable focus on finance as the Green Climate Fund (GCF) went through its first official replenishment process. Finance was once again a hot topic at the COP as Parties considered guidance to the GCF, the work of the Standing Committee on Finance, progress on long-term finance, adaptation finance, and finance for loss and damage (as discussed above).

During COP-25, there was considerable discussion of the GCF and guidance to it. Ultimately, the Parties welcomed the progress the GCF has made to increase funding of projects, accreditation of entities, and closing of policy gaps. Notably the Parties recommended that the GCF continue to consider ways to enhance its support for adaptation and to increase collaboration with the Climate Technology Centre and Network.  The recommendation also notes the need for the GCF to ensure that it has privileges and immunities, which was a major topic of concern given that GCF activities are underway in numerous countries, and it does not have privileges and immunities in many places. Lastly, though not specifying which policies (for example, the environmental and social safeguards), the Parties encouraged the GCF to continue to close the policy gaps that remain.   

The Parties also considered the work of the Standing Committee on Finance (SCF). Notably, they acknowledged the SCF’s ongoing work towards increasing its openness and transparency and incorporating people, including through plans to expand stakeholder engagement and to enhance efforts to ensure gender responsiveness in the implementation of its work. Additionally, the Parties initiated a review of the SCF and welcomed the SCF’s decision for its 2020 topic to be the financing of nature-based solutions.

The need for more adaptation finance was a constant theme as countries work to adapt to the rapidly changing climate. The link to the negotiations was most closely seen in the discussion around the share of proceeds of Article 6 activities that would go to the Adaptation Fund. While Parties largely agreed on having a share of proceeds from the Article 6.4 mechanism going to the Adaptation Fund (in a similar manner to what the CDM currently does), they debated how much this contribution should be, as well as whether there should also be an automatic share of proceeds from Article 6.2 activities. Ultimately, the final text put forward included a share of proceeds at the same 2 percent rate as the CDM currently has going to the Adaptation Fund and a suggestion that trading under Article 6.2 also generate funds for adaptation through a share of proceeds.

Given the lack of certainty around share of proceeds, it is critical that the Adaptation Fund generates funds elsewhere. During COP-25, the Adaptation Fund received almost USD 90 million in pledged funding with new pledges from Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Poland (for the first time), Ireland, and the three regional governments of Belgium that joined Sweden, Spain, and Quebec who had previously announced contributions.

However, despite these positive contributions to the Adaptation Fund, COP-25 largely failed on delivering further finance or even a commitment to providing the finance needed to combat the climate crisis and address countries’ needs to adapt or deal with ever-increasing loss and damage.

Security blocks protesters
After an action, protesters had their badges revoked and security kept them from reentering the COP

Fossil fuels: the elephant in the halls of IFEMA

With the COP sponsored by major companies with direct fossil fuel ties, including Iberdrola, Endesa (Spain’s biggest corporate greenhouse gas polluter), and Coca-Cola, the role and influence of fossil fuels were on full display. This sponsorship starkly contrasted the reports and calls from civil society to end fossil fuel production in order to combat climate change.

Though not on the official agenda, fossil fuel production and fossil fuel companies were the elephant in every room at COP-25. The release of UNEP’s Production Gap Report just prior to the COP brought the continued fossil fuel economy into sharp focus. This report clearly identified that the production of fossil fuels needs to be wound down in order to meet the Paris Agreement target of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5℃. In contrast, current government plans would produce 120 percent more fossil fuels than are compatible with keeping temperature rise to 1.5℃.

Coupled with this Production Gap Report, the first week of the COP saw a plethora of side events and press conferences discussing the need to end fossil fuel production immediately. During this week, a group of non-governmental organizations also released a new report “Oil, Gas and Climate: An Analysis of Oil and Gas Industry Plans for Expansion and Compatibility with Global Emissions Limits.” Like the Production Gap Report, this new report focused on the threat of the global expansion of fossil fuels and articulated the need for governments, investors, businesses, and civil society to take action to end this expansion. Thus, as countries discussed the need for enhanced ambition and negotiated nuances of carbon markets, among other things, civil society highlighted the urgent need to phase out fossil fuels. However, this topic never made its way in to the negotiating rooms, although it did find itself everywhere else, from side events and press conferences to protests and discussions of the accelerating wave of climate litigation, and even speeches by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment. 

Of particular significance, COP-25 provided the backdrop for a major announcement by the national Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines. Following four years of investigation into the human rights impacts of climate change in the Philippines and the contribution of 47 Carbon Major companies to those impacts, including hearing from local communities on the frontlines of climate change as well as scientists, legal and human rights experts, researchers, and medical professionals, the Commission announced its findings and recommendations. In this groundbreaking investigation the Commission found that the world is in a climate emergency that demands urgent action and that these Carbon Major companies had a clear role in climate change. Thus, they could be found legally liable for human rights violations related to climate change. Further, though this groundbreaking investigation was not about the responsibility for damages of these companies, it did conclude that impacted people deserve access to remedy and justice. To that end, the Commission concluded that Carbon Major companies could potentially be held accountable under both civil and criminal laws, and that the best place to bring these cases is likely domestic courts under national law.

These groundbreaking findings as well as the numerous other lawsuits, events at the COP, reports, and mobilizations demonstrate that even though the official COP agenda does not include fossil fuels, there is growing momentum to end fossil fuel production and hold those most responsible for climate change accountable.

The authors are grateful to Lili Fuhr, Steven Feit, and Carroll Muffett for their review and to Ingrid Wehr who summarized comments of Chilean colleagues on this text.