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COP25 blog – 7 December 2019

On Friday, a protest march demanding climate action was organized in Madrid. Trade unions took an active part in it. The organizers, Ecologistas en Acción, claimed more that 500,000 people participated. Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist who launched the “Fridays For Future” movement, said at the march that

“change is not going to come from the people in power, it’s going to come from the masses.”

The voice of youth have often been the most powerful at these talks, and now more than ever it is clear that a global movement of youth activists will not be silenced.

The climate march in Madrid was led by indigenous peoples from Latin America, to highlight the shame of Chile reneging, at the last minute, on its promise to host the talks – and blaming its citizens rather than the actions of the Chilean government.

The main discussions of the Subsidiary Bodies have apparently reached agreements on technology transfer, research and observation, but continue to debate several other issues: common time frames, agriculture, transparency, and of course emissions trading. Some of these will be taken up by the ministerial level delegates who are mostly arriving this weekend.

There seems to be a problem reaching an agreement on the seemingly mundane topic of the common time-frames for Nationally Determined Contributions. I had thought that this was settled in Paris, at five years. I suspect that this entire debate is malicious and in bad faith, being continued by countries that want to postpone action.

Meanwhile, a typhoon is actively wreaking damage in the Philippines. Typhoons and hurricanes are “heat engines” – they draw their energy from warm ocean water. The warmer the water, the more energy they can acquire. Warming oceans resulting from climate change are making extreme weather events both more frequent and more destructive.

This COP was also supposed to be the COP that focused more intently on oceans and polar ice. As well as the impacts already being felt by wildlife and indigenous peoples, these regions hold the keys to understanding whether we are at risk of crossing a dangerous climate “tipping point” from which we will not easily be able to return.

A tipping point is a change that could put us rather suddenly into a completely different climate reality. Think of an egg in a bowl. If I slightly tilt the bowl, the egg will roll towards one side; but if I make the bowl upright again the egg will return to the bottom of the bowl. However, if I tilt the bowl too far, the egg will roll out of the bowl and crash to the floor. Now, if I make the bowl upright again, the egg will not magically return to the bowl and re-constitute itself. It has shifted to a completely different state from which it cannot return.

It is strongly suspected by scientists that climate tipping points exist that we are not considering the risk of. One example (among several being examined) is methane frozen as methane hydrates in permafrost or at the bottom of polar oceans. If the climate warms just enough to suddenly release vast quantities of methane to the atmosphere in a short time, that would trigger a devastating tipping point.

However, climate tipping points are not the only worry.

Trade unions believe that there are social tipping points as well. Anger resulting from inequality, injustice, violations of human rights and the destruction of decent work and living standards – and the destruction of the environment as experienced by individuals – can also reach a tipping point. Mass public discontent could erode public support for climate action, or depending on the circumstances, harden public demands for it. Political leaders should be wary.

The Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) group had an off-site side event today. I could only attend part of it. IndustriALL shares TUED’s concerns that the present system is broken and has not yet delivered the needed systemic changes. The energy system is however changing, and will be radically transformed, over the next few years. Whether under public ownership or not, a Just Transition for workers, their families, and the communities and cultures that they are part of, must be guaranteed.

I have written a few times about the difficult discussions surrounding Article 6 – which implies carbon markets. The most powerful lobby group on this topic is the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) whose members include banks and investment companies, energy companies, industrial companies, and others. Shell is one of the lead organizations within IETA. While an emissions trading rulebook could have clear benefits for the environment, it is obvious that companies such as Shell would benefit greatly as well, by being able to use emissions trades to offset their business-as-usual. This is not necessarily a bad thing if it is done right, with a rulebook that enforces respect for human rights and ratchets emissions downwards rapidly – but it could be very bad if the rules are not carefully written.

Finance discussions continue – I think I have written this statement on just about every blog entry at just about every COP that I have attended. The amounts under discussion, while certainly large, are trivial next to the global military budget, or to the bailouts received by the financial sector in 2009, to pick two examples. To repeat, any resistance on the part of developed countries to fully funding finance for adaptation and loss and damage – following the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities – is a question of priorities and political will, not capacity.


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