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COP25 blog – 10 December 2019

Opening of High Level Segment

The work of the two-week-long COP consists of: week one, when experts and professional diplomats negotiate; and week two, when ranking ministers and heads of state complete negotiations and adopt the final outputs of the COP.

I was fortunate to gain access to the opening of the High Level Segment (access to observers is severely limited). From past COPs, I know that sometimes these opening statements can give a sign of the mood of the ministers and the prospects for a successful conclusion.

At this point in the COP the situation is usually either one of hopeful expectation that most of the text is agreed upon, even if there are areas still being negotiated; or a state of acrimonious dispute.

Here at COP25, I sense only a bit of both, but overall I would describe the mood of the High Level Segment as low-energy and somewhat discouraged.

I attribute this to two factors. 

First, the Chilean President of COP25, Ms. Carolina Schmidt, is operating under a political cloud due to the circumstances of the last-minute change in venue from Santiago to Madrid. But even ignoring that, she just hasn’t been very effective at motivating or inspiring the delegates to get the work done. 

Second, the announced withdrawal of the USA from the Paris Agreement is pretty demotivating to the Parties. Even though the USA is just one country, it’s big and economically important, and historically responsible for a large share of the greenhouse gases causing climate change. 

Some may be surprised to learn that the USA still has a delegation here (technically the USA remains in the Paris Agreement until next year’s COP) – whose interventions have been mostly unhelpful. Please, if you refuse to lead, and you refuse to follow, at least have the courtesy to get out of the way.

The formalities of the opening of the High Level Segment included statements from the following:

  • Mr. Alejandro Sanz, described as “musician and citizen of the world”
  • Mr. Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
  • H.E. Ms. Teresa Ribera, Minister for Ecological Transition of Spain
  • Ms. Patricia Espinosa, UNFCCC Executive Secretary
  • H.E. Mr. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the United Nations General Assembly
  • H.E. Ms. Carolina Schmidt, President of COP25

Short statements from a long list of heads of state and ministers, followed.

As I said above, my sense from listening to these opening statements and the first rounds of national statements is, unfortunately, not optimistic. Despite the crisis we face, there seemed to be a lack of energy in the room. While some nations made very positive statements, others took the opportunity to make political points that do not move the world closer to the goals of the Paris Agreement.

I am hopeful that the loud and energetic interventions of the youth delegates will change the course of this COP. The scientific evidence shows we are far from being on the right path. The window of opportunity is closing. We need decisions, we need leadership, we are out of time.


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