Growing disconnect between expectations and political decisions at COP25 – civil society cannot and will not wait to start the fair transition

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As in previous years, the EESC was present at COP25, the annual Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which this year took place in Madrid, Spain, and which was concluded on 15th December 2019. Unfortunately, countries failed to agree on many of the expected outcomes, including rules to set up a global carbon trading system and a system to channel new finance to countries facing the impacts of climate change.

The EESC is deeply concerned with the growing disconnect between the climate emergency and the political answers to the climate crisis at COP25. Without any clear signs of increased ambition by the major polluters despite the continuous rise of emissions, the EESC expects the EU to take the lead and deliver on its promise of a growth that gives back more than it takes away.

During the second week of the COP25, the European Commission came forward with its European Green Deal - a top priority and a new growth strategy for the EU. A strong commitment on climate neutrality by 2050 and a clear ambition in EU’s contribution for the COP26 in Glasgow are necessary if we are serious about dealing with the climate crisis.

Below, the EESC representatives who were present at the COP25 share some of their personal reflections on the Madrid meeting.

Two weeks of negotiations for the future of the planet and the leaders of the world disappoint. So many had the hope that the Paris Agreement could have been improved. But it seems that vested interests are more powerful and meaningful than the needs of people, animals and environment. Trade Unions, NGO's and the business sector are ready to take action in a global political framework. Because we cannot and will not wait to start the fair transition. I was glad to hear the good news announced during the COP25 by the new European Commission for the launch of the European green (and hopefully social) deal.
Peter Schmidt, President of the EESC Sustainable Development Observatory

The (world) community of states does not have the strength or the will to solve the climate problem. This is a very similar situation as we know from the EU (there is no clarity about the climate targets; after the European Council of December 19th even though with the new Commission some movement can be expected). Even in Germany there are very different views of how quickly and with which instruments we should proceed in climate protection. I ask myself why we as "observers" of these processes are so keen on agreements. We know how quickly these political agreements will be broken again. These promises aimed at "tomorrow" and "the day after tomorrow". In my opinion, we should work much more intensively on replicating actions that have already brought positive results: e.g. specific climate protection activities in Denmark. Such actions help demonstrate that solutions work, even without international agreements.  Why do we defend so strongly the 1.5°C target of Paris, when already at 1.2°C warming the damage is immeasurable? The climate framework convention of 11992 in Article  already called for the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.
Why is no one bothered by the fact that this promise / qualitative goal was broken and replaced by a (much too high) quantitative goal (which will probably also not be kept)?
Why is the COP not discussing how to reduce environmentally harmful subsidies? When the phase out was promised already at the Rio Conference in 1992?
For me, the consequence should be: if you do not act on climate protection, we do no "deals" with you! That means: no Mercosur agreement, as long as Brazil stands in the way!
I wonder, what will Trump's first tweet look like if the EU introduces the "Carbon Border Tax" announced in the Green Deal?
Climate protection must be communicated differently in order to gain people's support. If citizens are worried because the energy prices are rising, driving is becoming more expensive, and flying may be prohibited, they will resist rather than support. That means climate protection has to be sexy, and there are already many good examples that we can use to make it so!
Lutz Ribbe, Vice-President of the EESC Sustainable Development Observatory

Encore une COP et encore une déception. Et pourtant depuis quelques années, quelle prise de conscience!  Je me  souviens à Lima, en 2014, avoir été impressionné par les avancées du monde de l'entreprise par et la mobilisation de la société civile.  Et puis, la COP 25 de Paris a créé un grand espoir.  Après le succès des négociations sur le Objectifs du développement durable en septembre, les leaders mondiaux montraient en décembre 2015 leur détermination à lutter contre la principale menace de notre temps.  Et depuis décembre 2015 qu’a t’on fait?  La prise de conscience est encore plus grande, les climato-septiques sont, pour l’essentiel, cantonnés à la Maison blanche, les syndicats savent qu’il n’y  aura pas d’emplois sur une planète morte, les agriculteurs ont conscience qu’ils ne peuvent pas continuer comme cela, les citoyens commencent à changer leurs habitudes  et, surtout, les jeunes se mobilisent et nous donnent une obligation morale de changer.  Et pourtant,  que c’est difficile d’avancer au niveau mondial, en Europe, au CESE, au niveau national. Les  prévisions sont de plus en plus alarmantes  et les nombreuses catastrophes naturelles  nous donnent un avant-goût de ce qui attend les générations futures. Les solutions sont connues, la technologie est disponible les financements peuvent être mobilisés mais on se contente de petits pas alors que c’est d’une profonde transformation dont on a besoin, pour sauver le monde et, en Europe, pour recréer un projet et une mobilisation autour de la question climatique.  Alors bougeons nous, mobilisons nous et réussissons. Je ne veux pas avoir honte face à mes petits enfants qui me demanderont ce que leur grand père a bien pu faire pendant toutes ces années qu’il travaillait pour l’Union européenne sur les questions climatiques.
Jean-François Bence, Director, Legislative Works

I am writing this on Saturday morning, 14 December in Madrid. COP25 was supposed to end yesterday. What was expected to be a technical session on remaining questions unresolved last year in Katowice is becoming a dramatic struggle to preserve the spirit of the Paris Agreement. Negotiators in the plenary room are quarrelling over the language in another version of the COP text. At the same time, the pavilions, which over the last two weeks demonstrated climate solutions and actions in the halls of Feria de Madrid, are being dismantled by technical staff. Most of the COP participants have left. The outrage and disappointment of youth, women, indigenous people and people in countries suffering the worst consequences of climate change is growing. Millions of people are watching, waiting to see the final outcome of this COP. Over the last week in Madrid, together with the EESC delegation I met with a number of young people. When we talked to some of them early in the week, their enthusiasm was inspiring. They have a deep understanding of the challenges ahead and are determined to call for a complete overhaul of the system, which in their eyes has led to the climate emergency. But they are also able to change the way they do things as young citizens. Seeing the same people at the end of the week was very different. When I talked to Saoi, who gave me the bag of children’s letters to Green Santa I felt sadness. Possibly, to her I am part of the problem. I wear a badge that says “Party”. In the eyes of a young person, I am one of those who can change the course of these negotiations. One of those who should listen to them but does not. I often heard people say that youth strikes are giving them hope. I think they should be breaking our hearts instead. It is up to us to give these young people their hope back. I say this as a mother whose children will soon reach the age when one can experience the feeling of climate anxiety. However, I also say this as a civil servant who has seen a lot of positive change within the EESC over the last years and months and believes that it is in our power to act and to make sure that children do not have to ask Santa to save their planet.
Stella Brozek-Everaert, EESC Sustainable Development Observatory secretariat coordinator