COP25: Falling Short for Scientists and Citizens

Published on 02.07.2020
High School

5 min read

COP25, short for the 25th Conference of the Parties, was held from December 2 to 14, 2019 in Madrid, Spain, under the Presidency of the Government of Chile. It brought together the 197 member countries and institutions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Many observers deemed the outcomes of the conference disappointing, despite its breaking the record as the longest COP ever held, with two full nights of negotiations.

  Image of Ms. Carolina Schmidt, Chilean Minister for the Environment, at the closing session of COP25

After COP24 in Katowice, Poland (see the key outcomes), COP25 was not necessarily expected to produce major results, with COP26, set for late 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland, slated to deliver more concrete decisions.

Even so, many were hoping for the 25th conference in Madrid to at least reflect a drive to take action, in light of three very alarming IPCC1 reports on climate change, its effects on land mass and the impact on oceans, the many extreme weather events over the year, and protests by young people in a number of countries. But in reality, many delegations proved cautious to commit, with António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations (U.N.), saying he was “disappointed”.

Concerns Over National Determined Contributions

The Paris Agreement for the climate, adopted at COP21 in December 2015 (see an overview), did not set binding targets on carbon emissions, leaving it up to each country to define their own. Since the objectives stated in 2015 were by no means sufficient to limit average to 2°C (and certainly not 1.5°C), countries signing the Paris Agreement committed to intensify their objectives, or National Determined Contributions, over the following five years – meaning before the end of 2020. The Agreement also provides for a global stocktake in 2023.

In Madrid, only 80 countries – out of nearly 200 – appeared ready to state new targets in 2020. Others, including India, even said that they would not be announcing theirs until 2023. It does not bode well for COP26 in Glasgow.

European Green Deal

There was good news from the European Union (E.U.), however. The new President of the European Commission, Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen, presented an ambitious Green Deal. Europe may account for less than 10% of world CO2 emissions, but it still intends to set an example in limiting them.

The Green Deal sets out the E.U.’s plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, with Poland the only country not committing. Carbon neutrality means making sure that emissions from human activities (including energy production, transportation, housing, and industrial and agricultural processes) do not exceed the amount absorbed by the planet in carbon sinks, such as plants, soils and oceans.

The Green Deal raises the previous intermediate goal for a 40% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 to between 50% and 55%.

Did You Know?
The European Green Deal plans for carbon neutrality by 2050.

Some Countries Still Reluctant

As for countries reluctant to commit, the usual suspects stuck to their guns. The United States, represented by a diplomat, confirmed their withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The decision will become legally effective from November 4, 2020 at the earliest – the day after the next presidential elections, where Donald Trump is expected to stand for reelection.

The belief in the United States that climate action is bad for the economy is rubbing off on other countries, including Brazil and Australia, despite their having both been hit hard in 2019 by forest fires which, according to meteorologists, further exacerbate global warming. Russia and the Gulf countries seem unwilling to make changes, too.

China and India Prove Hesitant

The world’s two most populous countries, India and China, together responsible for a quarter of carbon emissions worldwide, held back. They have made significant efforts to develop renewable energies and improve but, given the needs of their growing populations, they still rely heavily on (which they both have in abundance).

But two upcoming events could encourage China to renew its focus on climate action. A summit between China and the E.U. is planned for September 2020 in Leipzig, Germany, which the new European Commission is hoping will lead to a united front between Brussels and Beijing on climate issues and in turn motivate the United States to follow suit.

In addition, China will be hosting a conference on in Kunming, Yunnan province, in October 2020. It is a chance for the country to boost its global image in the protection of species and ecosystems, which are closely tied to global warming.


  1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)


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