Back 20.12.2019

Madrid: Decisive Failure or Glimpse of Hope? The Two Truths of Climate Talks

The UN Climate meeting in Madrid failed in reaching a comprehensive deal, but agreed that we all need to do more. What does this mean? Can we avoid the havoc of uncontrolled global warming? Is there a role for the intergovernmental process?

Firstly, the international talks are of paramount importance. At any price, we need a time and a place for everyone to meet, listen, talk and to find win-win avenues. So, the process must be kept ongoing. Any serious threat to derail the talks would be detrimental to our physical and human atmosphere, and lead to further disconnection and division. We simply cannot isolate trumps, putins and bolsaneros.  Too much on the plate.

Secondly, complexity without leadership leads to further negotiations. The conference is not about one agreement, but a myriad of negotiations on numerous streams of arrangements (such as mitigation goals, adaptation measures, common but differentiated responsibilities of countries, finance, transparency, counting rules, market mechanisms), each presenting considerable financial pros and cons to every negotiating party, and each item interlinked to number of national interests and other international agreements and negotiations… Since no country has a unique negotiation power, nor takes a full-time leadership in the process, on-it-goes.

Thirdly, no deal can be expected on-time. Given the complexity of the matter and the state-of-art in “global affairs”, the international process will never reach a binding ambitious agreement on time. The 1,5-degree goal is a just and rightful political objective, and we must do everything we can to achieve it. But we will not.

Fourth, the realistic near-term future is a four-degree warming. And this means 6 to 8 degrees in the Northern Hemisphere, significant rise in sea level, melting ice-cover and glaziers and significant methane- emissions from melting tundra. This means rapid changes, and that there will be – big time – losers and winners.

Fifth, as we can see the wrong side of the tipping point, focus of the international talks shifts. Whether we like it or not, the international discussions must re-focus on new major issues such as how to capture the methane eruptions from melting tundra, generate massive additional humanitarian aid to areas suffering from e.g. quickly advancing decertification, lack of water, growing power of natural disasters. At the same time, every country, city or community must rebuild our societies to adapt to the new-normal.

Sixth, world is busy making things happen. Science and knowledge light our brains, digitalisation makes all of us aware of the problems and solutions, and consumers and money power the unprecedented growing action to cut the emissions. Existing and emerging clean technologies enable zero, or negative emission industrial operations. Circular economy and other new business models mean that sustainable business is better business than fossil-based business. Subsequently, those citizens, cities, corporations and countries who have the attitude, skills and time, assess their risks and opportunities, and take action. Because it is of their own interest. And this further divides the world to those who can, and those who cannot.

Seventh, get ready for crises. As stakes are getting higher, political language and measures may get out-of-hands. At some point this may severely divide young and not-so-young, those who very likely are losers to those who get away with climate changes, or to those who have or want to migrate, and those who shall receive them.

Now, all this boils down to three immediate action points:

  1. Keep the wheels rolling. Continued and inclusive talks at international fora, council of ministers, municipal councils, corporate boards, schools, football teams etc. mitigates the risk of things getting out-of hand. Give peace a chance.
  2. Let and incentivise those who can, to do more. There is a massive potential in reducing greenhouse gas emissions with a net-positive economic return. This may generate innovations and fuel solutions that are transformative.
  3. Do what you can. Reduce your emissions. Assess your risks and opportunities. And you will sleep better.

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