COP25: Towards multi-speed multilateralism

The result of the COP 25 should not be judged in a binary way: success or failure. On the contrary, the complexity of our world has been revealed.


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The developments of the COP25 should not be judged in a binary manner: success or failure. On the contrary, the complexity of our world has become apparent – a world that is difficult to manage with tools designed in distant times –, and we should therefore avoid simplistic assessments.

It is obvious that its outcome has not been the desired one, taking into account the climate emergency and thus the urgency of action. However, as is the case in many areas, the COP25 has shown that we cannot generalise, since it is not true its unsatisfactory outcome is due to the fact that “all governments are the same”. The inability to reach a more ambitious agreement is due to the requirement of unanimity – that is, the support of more than 190 governments – in order to make decisions within the United Nations; a requirement that implies an extraordinary negotiating effort and, in practice, an exasperating slowness.

Therefore, let’s not succumb to the temptation of discrediting “politicians” unreservedly, thus lumping together the European Union (with all its contradictions and shortcomings) and the United States, Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia… On the contrary, value must be placed on the initiatives of those governments that have contributed to the COP25 not being a complete failure. In fact, many countries have established voluntary partnerships during the Summit, committing to increase their ambition regarding the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, so that the temperature increase over this century does not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius: a prerequisite in order for this greater ambition to materialise in their respective contributions to the implementation of the Paris Agreement (2015) next year.

Likewise, 30 countries, led by Costa Rica, have agreed on the so-called “San Jose Principles”, which must be met with the creation of a future global emission allowances market – one of the most controversial issues of this Summit since there has been a risk of accepting a model conflicting with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Secondly, a broad-brush approach cannot either be applied regarding the commitments formally undertaken by the governments, since every country has administrative bodies with specific important powers, both for climate change mitigation and adaptation: regions and cities are the ones taking fundamental decisions in areas such as urban and land-use planning, water use, agricultural policy, use of renewable energy sources, mobility…, decisions that may or may not coincide with the position of their national governments.

The most striking case is that of the United States, whose president is a climate-change denier who has already announced their withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. In spite of this, more than 20 States of the Union and more than 500 cities have committed themselves voluntarily to an ambitious roadmap for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, within the scope of their own powers, including support for research and technological development in climate matters, and the development of partnerships with thousands of companies of all sizes and from all sectors, investment funds and social organisations.

“The COP 25 will be particularly remembered for evidencing this “planetary” awareness”

Furthermore, this Summit has been – both inside and outside the premises where it was held – the expression of the vitality of civil society, with people of all ages and from all corners of the world, favoured by the undeniable leadership of the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who has managed to build an stimulating bond between the scientific community and the rest of the citizens. It is of course regrettable that warnings from experts about the growing severity of global warming, its causes and its consequences, have gone virtually unnoticed until so recently. Over the decades, the environmental organisations have tried to convince the public opinion and the governments, without enough success, to make the necessary changes in the production and consumption models, – changes that many consider a setback in the welfare standards of society.

But now, at last, awareness has been raised on a global scale about the social damage caused by climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution… And the COP 25 will be particularly remembered for evidencing this “planetary” awareness, which was unthinkable until just recently. Two of the unanimously approved agreements of this summit are actually the result of this growing awareness: the launch of a specific programme on the impact of global warming on women and young girls, and the need to take into account, with concrete measures, the advances in science regarding climate knowledge, particularly in connection with the important role of the oceans, whose protection has now become part of the implementation of the Paris Agreement. 

It has been a COP25 with lights and shadows, and it is not by chance it has been the longest in the history of such summits: this unprecedented extension of the discussions bears witness to the huge efforts that many of its actors – the representatives of the Spanish government amongst them – were willing to make in order for the conclusions to reflect the sufficient will to move forward in an increasingly urgent transition.

In my view, this COP25 makes it foreseeable that this progress will take place at various speeds, without giving up on the overarching target of strengthening a multilateralism governed by common rules, which guarantees human rights all over the world.

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