Disappointing end to COP25

The UN Climate Change Conference COP25 was held this December 2019 in Madrid, Spain. The conference serves to build the level of ambition ahead of 2020 and operationalize action items of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. 

At the COP25 conference, the newly appointed European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen launched the first European Climate Law, placing legal weight behind commitments to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. This will ensure that all European policies contribute to climate neutrality.

Enshrining climate neutrality into legislation has been a vital missing step from all previous commitments over the years.  We cannot ensure countries’ pledges to protect the environment if there is no legal basis behind them. This was a massive step for Europe.

College readout of the first meeting of the von der Leyen Commission

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

There is a risk with increasing the level of ambition for emission reductions in a country. – carbon leakage.

This occurs when,

“there is an increase in greenhouse gas emissions in one country as a result of emissions reduction by another country with a strict climate policy.”

Situations like this could happen if for instance, businesses were to move production to other countries with laxer emission restrictions due to climate policy-related costs, thus increasing their total emissions.

In order to tackle carbon leakage, the European Commission will recommend a carbon border tax, which would apply to imports from higher-emitting parts of the word (e.g. the USA), ensuring that the price of imports more accurately reflect their carbon content. This received mixed reviews from country leaders.

The European Green Deal, presented at COP25, is comprehensive and includes everything from renewable energy sources to sustainable agriculture. Von der Leyen said, “[This] is our new growth strategy, for a growth that gives back more than it takes away.”

There was still much to be fleshed out regarding the details of these new measures, though they received mostly positive responses during the climate conference. The member states have a large responsibility to increase their level of ambition for carbon neutrality given their contribution to the climate crisis. 

During a key summit in Brussels, the Green Deal failed to come to a unanimous agreement because of just one country – Poland. This is a shocking disappointment as this deal would have set the stage for transformation in Europe and serve to inspire changes in other countries around the globe. The EU leaders will continue moving forward with climate neutrality by 2050 despite Poland’s opt-out. They have a shared common goal and are making plans to push past these setbacks. The European Council will revisit the objectives of the Green Deal in June 2020.

This left a disappointing end to the COP25 for many as no agreement was made on carbon markets.