by Kristian Gubsch
The 25th annual Conference of the Parties (COP) was held in Madrid, Spain this year and lasted from December 3 – December 15 which is the longest COP ever held. I arrived on December 4th and left December 11th, and was able to attend five days of the conference in total. To be honest, the conference was initially overwhelming as there are multiple schedules of events published, simultaneous presentations, negotiations, and panel discussions going, and on top of that the conference center was very large. Luckily, a few of my colleagues here at Climate Conversations were able to show me around and I quickly learned how to maneuver the COP. Throughout my time at the COP I was bombarded with all kinds of information about climate change, but after processing it all I have broken it down into my three main takeaways below.
What is Article 6 of the Paris Agreement?
One of the main reasons I was excited to attend COP25 was to see international climate policy negotiated in real-time. With so much pressure and expectations coming from the worldwide protests and the rise of Greta Thunberg and her movement Fridays For Future, I imagined this sense of urgency would be reflected in the negotiations. One of the main points of contention throughout the COP was Article 6 of the Paris Agreement which, prior to attending COP25, I was unfamiliar with. Article 6 essentially allows countries with lower emissions to sell their remaining emissions to larger emitters to help them meet their emissions target outlined in their nationally determined contribution. However, Article 6 has been discussed extensively at prior international meetings so there was mounting pressure to reach an agreement at COP25. As I sat through the negotiations, the sense of urgency was palpable among the co-facilitators (co-facilitators are basically moderators of the discussions who are responsible for incorporating countries’ suggestions into a drafted document and urging countries to reach a consensus) of the negotiations as they reminded several different countries be brief in their remarks.
The negotiation that I attended was supposed to only last for two hours; however, it ran an extra hour long and suggestions had only been made for two out of the three paragraphs that were supposed to be reviewed. By the conclusion of the conference, there was still no consensus among countries which means it will not be discussed again until the next intersessional meeting in June 2020. After sitting through three hours of Article 6 negotiations, it was impossible for me to ignore the stark contrast between the young activists at the conference and the lack of cooperation at the international level in regards to legislating progressive climate action. If you are interested in other aspects of COP25 negotiations and what to expect going forward I would encourage reading CarbonBrief’s breakdown of the conference found here.
The U.S. is Still In! (Sort of)
While we are all well-aware of the Trump administration’s intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, some of you may be less aware of the work being done by U.S. Climate Action Center. At COP25, each country has the opportunity to host their own pavilion where people can learn more about how the country is responding to issues that are being caused by climate change. Since the U.S. is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, the U.S. Climate Action Center is a group that attends international climate conferences in the United States’ absence and organizes events to spread awareness of the climate action that is happening in the United States. This center also represents the effort of a broader movement in the U.S. called We Are Still In which is a movement that consists of 2,234 businesses/investors, 287 cities/counties, 353 colleges/universities, 10 states, 68 cultural institutions, 28 health care organizations, 50 faith groups, and 11 tribes across the nation.
Over the course of the week, I attended several panel discussions that included university presidents, business leaders, and policymakers. From the university panel, I learned of an organization called Second Nature that is pushing universities to integrate carbon neutrality and sustainability goals into their futures. So far over 450 schools have declared a carbon neutrality goal and the network of universities that have made a commitment can be viewed here. The next session I attended consisted of CEOs from various companies such as The Dow Chemical Company, Edison International, and Unilever, as well as a representative from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). During this discussion, I was encouraged to hear that CEOs were taking the issue of climate change very seriously and as one of the panel members put it, “there are no jobs or businesses on a dead planet”. The coalition of companies, organized by the group We Mean Business, who are pledging to reduce their emissions was also discussed and more than 87 companies have pledged to go net-zero or reduce their emissions. Finally, the panel discussion composed of policymakers reiterated the importance of the private sector’s action on climate change and emphasized that the environment and business go hand-in-hand. This was a bipartisan discussion with both Democrats and Republicans on the panel and both sides agreed that bipartisan climate action at the local and state level can also be very effective.
Sweden is Home to the First Climate Positive Company
I had never heard of the phrase “climate positive” until I attended a panel of business leaders discussing why they are key partners to keep the global temperature rise to below 1.5 ᵒC. A representative from the Swedish company MAX Burgers explained that “climate positive” is a term applied to a company that meets three categories: 100% of their greenhouse gas emissions are measured, there is a history of reducing emissions, and at least 110% of the emissions is captured. At first, I was skeptical because I am aware that animal agriculture, particularly cows, are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions globally. However, they have made an effort to offset these emissions by planting more than 700,000 trees in Africa and continue to plant trees each year to maintain their climate positive status. Additionally, Mevo ride share, a car sharing company in New Zealand, claims to be the second climate positive company and the first climate positive ride sharing service. Their electric vehicles are charged with 80% renewable energy from the grid and the rest of the energy is offset by 120% through the purchase of certified rainforest carbon offsets. While the phrase “climate positive” is not yet widespread in the business world, it is encouraging to see companies in industries that are typically responsible for a large emissions footprint take action to not only to reduce emissions, but also improve the environment. Overall, I was re-energized through seeing the action being taken by the private sector and am excited to see more and more companies make commitments towards a more sustainable future.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the Opportunity Fund, Office of Undergraduate Research, and Honors College at Washington State University for funding my housing and meals during my trips to Washington, D.C. and Madrid. I would also like to thank Alaska Airlines for covering the cost of my domestic flights.