Governments failed dismally to take urgent action at COP25
COP25 - Sanity has left the building

Two weeks of negotiations at the COP25 UN climate summit have up in Madrid, with governments having failed dismally to respond to the unfolding global climate crisis. Despite clear warnings from scientists through 2019, record levels of protests and severe climate impacts, the talks fell victim to major differences between countries that are proving hard to resolve.

Observers in Madrid blamed G20 countries for the poor outcome, with the US, Brazil, Australia, Saudi Arabia and major oil, gas and coal companies implicated in undermining climate ambition. Trump, Morrison and Bolsonaro appeared unmoved by the raging fires in the Amazon, Sydney and California this year which destroyed precious ecosystems and left thousands homeless.

Leading economies such as Canada, Japan, China and India were faulted for their complacency – failing to deliver more support to vulnerable nations in the face of brutal impacts and push for a tougher collective response in 2020 – when new climate plans are mandated under the Paris Agreement. The EU tried to play its role as bridge-builder between developing and developed countries. However, it will take a major diplomatic push and bigger leadership alliance to deliver substantial outcomes at COP26 in Glasgow.

This unfolded as South Africa endured severe loadshedding, while the South African government was reluctant to unblock much-needed wind and solar projects. In SA, air pollution and severe climate impacts are driving social justice further from reach, while the government plans to build new coal-fired power plants. COP25 observers criticised SA for this, but still, on this international stage many looked to the country to help break deadlocks like it did in Paris in 2015.

African negotiators and African ministers led by SA environment minister Barbara Creecy (see their statement at the end of this email) drew hard lines on behalf of poor countries. Team SA attempted at COP25 to position the country as a climate fighter, promising an enhanced, 1.5-degree aligned NDC by 2020 and talking tough on African impacts, but observers said the country’s coal addiction likely weakened this effort. Exctinction Rebellion has emphasised the critical effects of climate change the country is already exposed to and has called on Minister Creecy to declare climate emmergency in South Africa in an Open Letter which was published during the opening days of COP 25.


What was / was not agreed in Madrid:

2020 climate plans: strengthened urgency text directly pointing to emissions gap.

COP25’s final decision text “re-emphasizes with serious concern the urgent need to address the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation efforts in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 (…)”, at the same time that it “stresses the urgency of enhanced ambition in order to ensure the highest possible mitigation and adaptation efforts by all Parties.”

However, the text is generally very circular (i.e. no clear one-sentence statement “in light of climate urgency encourages parties to submit enhanced NDCs in 2020”).

Carbon markets: Negotiators failed to reach an outcome on carbon markets. In the final hours of negotiations, over 30 governments joined behind the San Jose Principles in an effort to preserve the integrity of carbon market rules and prevent loopholes and the ability for double-counting carbon credits.

Loss & Damage: Santiago network established to lead more work on implementation to minimize, avoid and recover from loss and damage. However, the final text is weaker than the previous version.

It term of finance, it “urges” scale up of support by developed countries and other Parties is a position to do so, as well as private and non-governmental organizations, funds and other stakeholders; but then only invites the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Board to continue providing resources for loss and damage, and invites it to take into account, within its mandate, the strategic workstreams of the WIM Executive Committee.

Debate on governance was pushed to the next year.

Oceans & Land: new UN work to commence on the ocean and climate change to consider how to strengthen mitigation and adaptation action; as well as in land and climate change adaptation related matters.

All published decision texts here

Analysis of decision texts and the latest amendments here

The outcome did not meet the demands of millions that have rallied around the world this year against climate impacts, economic injustice, human rights abuses and inequality. In the middle of the second week, 200 activists were temporarily removed from the venue, after they protested the lack of progress in the negotiations. This was days after 500,000 people – alongside Time Person of 2019 Greta Thunberg – crowded the streets of Madrid demanding ‘climate justice’.

The poor outcome leaves COP26 hosts the UK and Italy with an exceptionally heavy lift through 2020 to encourage major polluters to deliver new emission cuts in line with science. The EU’s green new deal and new 2050 net zero pledge, over 70 countries committing to better climate plans in 2020 and a surge in businesses and record numbers of investors transitioning to carbon neutrality offers hope.

But London and Rome will need to deploy their full diplomatic, economic and financial arsenal to get the world back on track in 2020. Eyes will also be on the EU-China summit in Leipzig next September, where Brussels and Beijing could jointly deliver their 2020 climate plans.



Laurence Tubiana, CEO European Climate Foundation and Paris Agreement Architect

“The result of this COP25 is really a mixed bag, and a far cry from what science tells us is needed. Major players who needed to deliver in Madrid did not live up to expectations, but  thanks to a progressive alliance of small island states, European, African and Latin American countries, we obtained the best possible outcome, against the will of big polluters.”

“The heroic support by Teresa Ribera in the last hours helped getting us the minimum outcome needed to go into 2020 – the year when climate action counts.”

The Paris Agreement is too important for the safety of the planet to fall victim to short-term politics from the world’s major powers. Paris was clear: 2020 is the year when all countries need to submit new and really enhanced climate plans. This will be a big test for the UK and Italy – who host COP26 in Glasgow next year – but I trust they can deliver.”

Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace International

“Governments need to completely rethink how they do this, because the outcome of COP25 is totally unacceptable. This COP exposed the role of polluters in politics and the youth’s deep distrust of government, as climate blockers like Brazil and Saudi Arabia, enabled by an irresponsibly weak Chilean leadership, peddled carbon deals and steamrolled scientists and civil society. We need systemic change that people can trust, and the Paris agreement is just one part of the puzzle. Decision-makers now need to go home, regroup and think about how to move forward as we head into a critical 2020.” 

Mohamed Adow, Director of Power Shift Africa

“We need to see countries committing to new and improved climate plans next year. That regular review and ratchet mechanism was what promised to make the Paris agreement an effective tool for reducing emissions, but countries are dragging their feet and they are putting us all in danger. In order to build a coalition of countries willing to submit new climate plans next year, rich countries need to fulfil their promises on pre-2020 action and that will unlock promises from poorer countries on new emissions reductions.”

Jonathan Pershing, Hewlett Foundation and former US Special Envoy for Climate Change

“The outcome of this session demonstrates how far we have to go in our collective effort to address climate change: While the youth community, a growing cohort from business, and a number of countries are pledging to move in the right direction, the collective global effort still falls well short of what is needed. And while Madrid focused on narrow technical issues, it is past time to move beyond that. All governments will need to step up; next year in Glasgow, we must see real political change, and ambitious plans and national commitments commensurate with the challenge.”

Monica Araya, Founder, Costa Rica Limpia

“This process has shown that a handful of countries want to dictate the agenda of the many, with the big letting down the small. The fact that the US and China no longer cooperate to fight the climate crisis hurts not only the negotiations but also the real economy. Latin America’s two largest economies, Brazil and Mexico, are also letting down the smaller countries by coming to (and going from) Madrid empty handed.” 

Alden Meyer, Director of Policy and Strategy, Union of Concerned Scientists

“I’ve been attending these climate negotiations since they first started in 1991. But never have I seen the almost total disconnect we’ve seen here at COP25 in Madrid between what the science requires and what the climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful action. Led by the youth, growing numbers of people around the world are demanding that their leaders take bold, ambitious action to tackle the climate crisis. Nearly 70 countries—most of them climate vulnerable, developing nations — have risen to the challenge by committing to enhance the ambition of their Paris pledges. But most of the world’s biggest emitting countries are missing in action and resisting calls to raise their ambition.”

Jennifer Tollmann, Policy Advisor, Climate Diplomacy, Risk and Security, E3G

“COP25 was above all a failure of political will – from countries who felt this was an unimportant bump in the road en-route to Glasgow, and from a Presidency that in the face of opportunistic blockers (including US, Brazil, Australia and Saudi Arabia) defaulted to proposing a lowest common denominator outcome. A lot needs to change if we’re going to bend the curve in 2020. However, rays of hope came from two unlikely places: from Brussels where the world’s largest economic zone has embraced the Green Deal as its new growth strategy; and from the coalition of finance ministers who are waking up to the risks of climate far more so than the negotiators in these halls.”

Isabel Cavelier, Strategy Adviser at Mission2020 and Vision Director of Transforma

“The distance between reality and negotiation has a raison d’être that must be mentioned. More and more polluting countries such as Brazil, China, India, the US and Australia are imposing their interests and delaying progress. Vulnerable countries like Colombia have everything to lose. This is no longer a negotiation of developed countries against developing countries. It is more and more a negotiation of big countries against small ones, in which the last ones are losing.”


Luisa Neubauer, 23, Fridays for Future Germany

“The governments at COP25 had one job: to translate the scientific evidence and the protest of millions of people around the world into climate action – in times when more and more countries declare a climate emergency. The drastic failure of governments to keep their promise to step up ambition leaves us with no progress after one year of strikes. We need the EU to restore momentum around the Paris agreement by announcing an ambitious NDC early 2020.”

Angela Valenzuela, 25, Fridays for Future Chile

“Climate leadership has been present at COP25, but it has not come from governments. It’s the climate justice movement that will transform the world. Rich countries under the influence of the fossil fuel industry have blocked all possibility of justice and real climate action. The voice of women, Indigenous Peoples and the youth keep being excluded. We will never benefit out of the destruction of the planet and our communities. That’s why we stay strong, more united and awake as ever.”

Vanessa Nakate, 23, Uganda, Founder of Youth For Future Africa

“We woke up to the climate crisis. We went to the streets. We protested. We demanded climate action from our government leaders. They promised us change. They gave us hope. We came to the COP25. We protested. The destroyers continue to manipulate the system. We should put the blame and shame where it belongs: on the system that caused the mess, the fossil fuel industry and the governments they control.”


Jen Austin, Policy Director of the We Mean Business coalition

“Business is looking for governments to commit to achieving a just transition to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050 at the latest. They must strengthen their NDCs and 2030 targets in line with a 1.5ºC trajectory, and lay out national policies, plans and laws to drive the achievement of these targets.”

Sue Reid, Vice-President, Climate & Energy at investor network CERES

“Inside and outside the halls of COP25, investors, companies and leaders from a cross-section of society sent a clarion call to global governments: Close the ambition gap and step up climate action. Unfortunately, the results of the just-concluded negotiations do no such thing, coming nowhere close to the speed and scale the Paris Agreement demands. History will judge harshly the failure of global governments to take action at the pace and scale required, particularly the federal government of the United States — the country that has produced more climate change-causing pollution than any other.”

Paul Simpson, CEO of CDP

“As of this week, 177 companies are now committed to science-based emission reduction targets aligned to a 1.5°C future, meaning net zero by 2050 at the latest. The number of businesses committing to this ambitious action has more than doubled since September. Likewise, some 630 institutional investors managing $37 trillion in assets called on governments to upgrade their national plans, phase out coal and end fossil-fuel subsidies. Political leaders can and should take confidence from the groundswell of business action at COP25 – but so far their response has not been commensurate with what is needed. Next year needs to be a super-year of climate action. Governments must urgently step up their ambition to give business the clarity and confidence they need to invest in the zero-carbon transition.”


Pam Pearson, Director of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative

“Right now, Greenland is losing mass six times faster than before, and Antarctica at least two times faster. Australia is on fire, and this is happening just at 1C. We know that passing 2°C is full of risk. There is no time for climate talks to break down.