The annual two-week climate change meeting begins in the Spanish capital Monday with the hope that countries will commit themselves to more ambitious actions to deal with the climate emergency which several new scientific studies have warned was getting out of hand.
In 2015, while finalising the Paris Agreement, all the countries had pledged a series of actions they intended to take by 2025 or 2030 to deal with the crisis. These actions, called Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, in climate jargon, are supposed to be updated next year. In the meanwhile, several studies have shown that the climate crisis had been worsening rapidly, and that the world’s response had been woefully inadequate so far, thereby requiring an immediate and massive scaling up of efforts.
“The point of no return is no longer over the horizon,” warned UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ahead of the start of the conference. “It is in sight and hurtling toward us,” he added.
A special meeting called for the same purpose by Guterres during the UN General Assembly session in September received a lukewarm response. Though lots of countries did announce fresh commitments, including a pledge from over 70 countries to ensure net-zero emissions by 2050, the big emitters, whose actions make all the difference — the United States, China, India, European Union and others — have so far been holding on.
At the Madrid meeting, countries are likely to come under intense pressure from civil society groups to commit to greater action. The climate negotiators, in the meanwhile, will try to tie the loose ends of the Paris Agreement rulebook. The rulebook that contains the processes, mechanisms and institutions through which the provisions of the Paris Agreement will be implemented, had been finalised in Katowice last year, But some of the issues had remained unresolved and had been left for the negotiators to settle over the next one year. Prominent among these is the issue of creation of a new carbon market under the Paris Agreement.
A carbon market ensures that a country or an industry that overachieves its emission targets is able to trade its additional effort with a country or industry that has been unable to achieve its target, or even otherwise willing to buy.
A carbon market already existed under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the earlier climate agreement which is expiring next year and getting replaced by Paris Agreement. In the last one decade, as several countries walked out of the Kyoto Protocol and no one was feeling compelled to meet their emission reduction targets, the demand for carbon credits had waned. As a result, developing countries like India, China and Brazil had accumulated huge amounts of carbon credits. These credits are now in danger of getting redundant.
Brazil has been arguing that these accumulated carbon credits should remain valid under the new carbon market to be instituted. But the developed countries have been resisting this claiming that the weak verification mechanisms under Kyoto Protocol had allowed dubious projects to earn credits. India, which has accumulated 750 million certified emission reductions (CERs), is backing Brazil’s position on this.
The resolution of this tussle is key to the success of the Madrid meeting. But there are similar other pending issues as well, like those related to ensuring transparency in the processes, and methods of reporting information