Dec 15, 2019 - Energy & Environment

Marathon UN climate talks sputter to a close but avoid collapse

A man sleeps during UN climate talks

A man sleeps during marathon talks at the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid. Photo: Oscar Ddel Pozo/AFP via Getty Images

Extended United Nations climate talks ended early Sunday with a modest agreement that punts key decisions and, activists argue, fails to reflect the urgency needed to confront the problem.

Why it matters: The latest round of annual UN negotiations in Madrid, which ended two days after Friday's scheduled close, are the last before nations are slated to offer revised emissions-cutting pledges next year under the Paris Climate Agreement.

Where it stands: Negotiators from over 200 countries, for the second straight year, also failed to reach an agreement on rules to govern international carbon credit trading markets.

  • In addition, "they also couldn’t agree on language about how to spur finance for green projects," per Bloomberg.

The big picture: The talks opened two weeks ago amid fresh signs of how the world is far, far off track from meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement — holding temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels and ideally limiting it to 1.5°C.

For instance, a UN report just before the talks found that by 2030, global emissions — which are still rising — "would need to be 25 percent and 55 percent lower than in 2018 to put the world on the least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to below 2˚C and 1.5°C respectively."

  • The agreement Sunday calls for tougher commitments when nations submit new pledges next year.
  • But Nathaniel Keohane of the Environmental Defense Fund tells Axios via email that "many parties (and observers) wanted a stronger and more explicit call for enhanced ambition."

What they're saying: Helen Mountford of the nonprofit World Resources Institute said in a statement there was "no sugarcoating" the conclusion of the talks.

  • "The negotiations fell far short of what was expected. Instead of leading the charge for more ambition, most of the large emitters were missing in action or obstructive."
  • UN Secretary-General António Guterres tweeted: "The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis. But we must not give up, and I will not give up."

The intrigue: Elliot Diringer, a veteran of global climate talks with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, tells Axios that the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the Paris deal is affecting the negotiations.

  • "U.S. withdrawal is beginning to compound the deep and inherent challenges of decarbonizing the global economy. Some see an opening to be less ambitious in their own efforts," Diringer, who worked in the Clinton White House, said in an email Sunday morning.

Go deeper: Longest UN climate talks end with no deal on carbon markets

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