The COP of inaction

COP25 Day 1: from UNFCCC Climate Change flickr account

As COP25 closes in on its finale. Those that have sat at the center table and attempted to hammer out an international agreement have once again found themselves staring at the un-climbable wall of “Article 6”. The aim of Article 6 of the Paris agreement is for countries to implement a global carbon market and through this mechanism help individual countries to decarbonise their economies.

The world has seen some fantastic changes since Paris 2015… The 2-hour marathon time has been smashed, Mount Everest has grown 5cm in height, China landed a rocket on the dark side of the moon, and we have seen 4 of the hottest years since the industrial revolution. Yet within this timeframe the 194 countries that are represented at the conference have not, and cannot, agree to a set of rules or framework for a carbon market. It has been discussed at previous COPs in Marrakech, in Bonn, in Katowice and now in Madrid, and will probably be headlining Glasgow next year at COP26.

The hurdle that this year’s negotiations failed to clear was a low one. Before all legal framework and rules of a carbon market can be agreed, followed by the frantic loophole searching by the brightest and best of each country to gain advantage, the 194 countries needed to agree on transparency in reporting their emissions. China, India, Saudi Arabia and Australia found this pebble on the highway to progress too difficult to get around and so the opportunity of this years’ COP is trickling away faster than a melting glacier. Simply put, if each country will not correctly report the emissions they are responsible for, then it is impossible to put a fair price on carbon and makes the whole idea of using markets to drive down emissions pointless.

There are two reasons to dump Article 6 into the recycling bin. Firstly, it is not likely to be agreed, and secondly it is unjust. Why is it unjust? Countries across the world are wanting to leave the tricky issue of human rights outside of Article 6, believing that human rights should be determined internally and without UN interference. This means that indigenous cultures may find themselves being thrown off the land not this time by miners and oil companies but by those that will profit from trading carbon.

Time is another feature of COP25, or more importantly, the lack of it before critical thresholds will be breached and the aims of a 1.5 degree world agreed at Paris will be moot anyway. It is time to put away this iteration of a carbon market. Perhaps it is too much to expect transparency from a regime that hides its actions from scrutiny - Tibet, Tiananmen Square and the “re-education camps” of the Uighurs. The world cannot afford to waste the incredible opportunity of the COP meetings to continue to thrash at a deal that will never happen. Probably for the first time ever Donald Trump’s words are relevant to a climate conference: ‘’You got to know when to walk away from the table’’. Stop re-think, brainstorm and bring another idea to Glasgow. An example of this would be individual countries setting out their own emissions reduction plans. The UK has done it, aiming for 2050, as have 21 other countries. These countries can then influence the others, firstly by example and secondly through the mechanism of trade tariffs.

Outside of the plenary discussion, people filled the streets 500,000 marching for action on climate change in Madrid itself; inside COP25, the side events are filled with the stories of those on the frontline of change. While the public applied pressure, and NGO’s highlighted the international need for progress, the negotiators with practiced (this is the 25th COP) and predictable aplomb dithered and squabbled over the dotting of I’s and crossing of T’s, and booted the problem straight down the road to COP26 in Glasgow.