7 PM | Climate of inaction: On UN climate change conference | 17th December 2019

Context:Outcome of UNFCCC’s COP25 held at Madrid, Spain.

More in news:

  • The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference was held from 2 to 13 December 2019 in Madrid, Spain.
  • Despite extending the meeting for 2 days, the outcome is disappointing.


  • The UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994.
  • The 197 countries that have ratified the Convention are called Parties to the Convention.
  • The UNFCCC is a “Rio Convention”, one of three adopted at the “Rio Earth Summit” in 1992.
  • Its sister Rio Conventions are the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification.
  • The UNFCCC borrowed a very important line from one of the most successful multilateral environmental treaties in history (the Montreal Protocol, in 1987): it bound member states to act in the interests of human safety even in the face of scientific uncertainty.
  • The ultimate objective of the Convention is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system.”
  • It states that “such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”
  • Industrialized nations agree under the Convention to support climate change activities in developing countries by providing financial support for action on climate change– above and beyond any financial assistance they already provide to these countries.
  • A system of grants and loans has been set up through the Convention and is managed by the Global Environment Facility. Industrialized countries also agree to share technology with less-advanced nations.

Conference of the Parties (COP25):

  • The UN Climate Change Conference COP 25 (2 – 13 December 2019) took place under the Presidency of the Government of Chile and was held with logistical support from the Government of Spain. 
  • The conference is designed to take the next crucial steps in the UN climate change process. Following agreement on the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement at COP 24 in Poland last year, a key objective is to complete several matters with respect to the full operationalization of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
  • The conference will include the twenty-fifth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 25), the fifteenth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 15), and the second session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA 2).
  • The Conference of the Parties – meeting as COP, CMP and CMA – serves two main purposes:
  • To review the implementation of the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, respectively; and
  • To adopt decisions to further develop and implement these three instruments.

Outcome of the Madrid Conference:

  • After two extra days and nights of negotiations, delegates finally agreed a deal that will see new, improved carbon cutting plans on the table by the time of the Glasgow conference next year.
  • Few countries came to this year’s talks with updated plans to reach the Paris goals, though the EU finally agreed its long-term target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
  • This year’s UN talks focused on narrow technical issues such as the workings of the global carbon markets, a means by which countries can trade their successes in cutting emissions with other countries that have not cut their own emissions fast enough. However, no agreement has been reached and the issue will be resolved next year.
  • A “high ambition coalition” made up of the EU and many smaller developing countries pressed for a resolution to ask all governments to formulate stronger national plans on cutting carbon. However, no substantive decision on future emission cuts was made.
  • Weary negotiators wrangled over the wording of provisions for “loss and damage”, by which developing countries are hoping to receive financial assistance for the ravages they face from climate breakdown.
  • The US was blamed for refusing to agree to developing countries’ demands under what is known in the UN jargon as the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM).

India’s stand:

  • India played a strong role in critiquing the developed world’s continuing poor record on climate action.
  • It argued that unless a stocktaking exercise of the fulfillment of various pre-2020 commitments by developed countries (such as those made at Copenhagen, Cancun and Kyoto) showed that they were making significant progress, India would not raise its climate ambition for its next round of Paris Agreement targets due in 2020.
  • India also took a lead in calling for more finance for developing countries for climate action. India emphasised that “not even 2 per cent” of the promised “$1 trillion in the last 10 years” had been delivered.

India’s Progress:

  • India’s headline pledge under its NDC is to reduce the emission intensity of its GDP (greenhouse gas, or GHG, emissions per unit GDP) by 33-35 per cent over 2005 levels by 2030, and the 2019 Emissions Gap Report notes that the country is on track to exceed it by 15 per cent.
  • In addition, India has committed to generate 40 per cent of its installed power capacity from non-fossil sources by 2030, with an interim target of 175 GW of non-hydro renewables by 2022. While India is on track to meet the 2030 target, it may fall short of the interim target by as much as 42 per cent, warns a 2019 report by CRISIL, a Mumbai-based global analytics firm.
  • India has also pledged an additional carbon sink equivalent to 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2030 through forest and tree cover. But the Union government’s Green India Mission, which seeks to achieve the same, has been regularly missing its annual targets, and rendering the fulfilment of the pledge unlikely.
  • Overall, the Climate Action Tracker has rated the country’s efforts as ‘2 degree compatible’, which means that if all countries made efforts like India’s, the average global temperature rise could be limited to 2°C by 2100. India is the world’s only major economy to be rated so.

Way Forward:

  • All parties will need to address the gap between what the science says is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change, and the current state of play which would see the world go past this threshold in the 2030s.
  • As India prepares to face calls for higher ambition in 2020 and beyond, India has to involve its States in mitigation and adaptation efforts. 


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