Cop25 Bulletin: The political feedback loop

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Greta Thunberg at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Political scientist Thomas Hale argues that the next generation of political leaders will be starved of choices to tackled climate change if those in power now do not act (Photo: European Parliament/Creative Commons)


‘11 years left to save the planet’ – it’s become a mantra of hope and doom for 2019’s new crop of climate activists.

It’s also contested, not least by some of the IPCC scientists whose research spawned it.

But where physics demurs, politics may provide certainty, Oxford University academic Thomas Hale argues on Friday.

As the climate crisis piles stress onto societies and economies in coming decades, he says, the political capital needed to cut emissions will be consumed by a focus on survival.

It’s the political version of the feedback loops – thawing of methane-holding permafrost, loss of reflective sea ice – that threaten to push climate change beyond human control.

The political leaders of today – the governments now at the UN’s Cop25 talks in Madrid – may be the last who can actually do something to stop a runaway catastrophe.

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Also at Cop25… Hale’s piece (above) pours cold water on the idea that we can simply wait for the young to grow up and take over. That’s something youth activist Greta Thunberg has been saying ever since she burst into the global consciousness.

Thunberg, who sailed across the Atlantic twice to come to the talks, is giving a press conference in Madrid city centre at La Casa Encendida at 4pm on Friday just before joining climate protests starting at Atocha train station from 6pm. The official event page is here. Youth strikers are due to stage a sit-in inside the Cop25 conference centre at 10am to protest against government inaction.

Incoming Cop26 president, Claire O’Neill, previously Perry, the UK’s former clean growth minister, called on negotiators to finish the Paris Agreement rulebook in Madrid so that next year’s UN talks in Glasgow – a critical moment for countries to increase their climate plans – can focus on ambition. “Let’s start moving the dial, which is what people outside expect us to do,” she said.

Purdah rules ahead of an election in the UK next week (which could result in her being replaced if Labour wins government) mean O’Neill is not able to speak about the UK’s plans for Cop26 and her engagement at the talks has so far been low-key. The pre-election “period of sensitivity” will end on the morning of the last day of Cop25, when O’Neill is also due to fly home. It’s all about timing.

And indeed, O’Neill and her team will have just over 10 months to lift the ambition of the world’s largest emitters. No small feat. In contrast, France had two years to prepare Cop21 in 2015, when the Paris Agreement was signed. The UK is due to be officially confirmed host to next year’s talk next Friday.

The saga over the ECO newsletter continues. For the first time, the morning brief published by NGO coalition Climate Action Network has been banned from distribution inside the Cop venue.

Head of UN Climate Change Patricia Espinosa told young people the move aimed to enforce the meeting’s “paperless” policy, adding the secretariat was promoting ECO’s electronic version to delegates.

“The ECO newsletter was an exception [to this policy] for many years,” she said. “We are not limiting the distribution of any kind of information in the venue, it’s about making the conference more sustainable.” That is unlikely to appease civil society.

*** Want to talk to all of Cop25 but can’t get hold of Patricia Espinosa’s microphone? Get your message out in CHN’s renowned daily newsletter. Contact James Ramsey.***

What to watch on Friday:

The latest version of the Article 6 text was due to drop Friday morning but in signs of how tough things have been, it’s now expected “very late” Friday or in the early hours of Saturday.

Seven years after discussions on global carbon markets started, there is no clear path to find an agreement. Reflecting on the negotiations so far Sam Van den Plas, policy director at Carbon Market Watch, said the talks were “covered in a thin layer of cynicism”.

“It just doesn’t feel a nice place to be,” he said, adding “technical details have become political trade offs”.

The UN agenda for the day is here.

Outside Cop25… Investors with more than €6 trillion in assets – greater than the combined annual GDP of the UK and Germany – are calling on EU leaders to agree on a 2050 carbon neutrality target. The EU Council is meeting next week and the bloc’s net zero emissions target is high on the agenda. Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic have demanded financial assurances to come on side. (Read this all-you-need-to-know report on the target.)

The letter calls on the EU to align all relevant legislation to limit warming in line with the Paris Agreement. “It is no secret that investors favour long-term certainty and we therefore strongly support a net-zero emissions target for the EU, to be achieved by 2050 at the latest,” they wrote.

Saudi Arabia’s state/family-owned oil company Saudi Aramco sold 1.5% of its shares for $25.6bn, making it the largest IPO ever and the world’s most valuable listed company. Yet the Economist called it a “disappointment” compared to the initial hopes of crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

Behind the IPO is Saudi Arabia’s acknowledgement that its reliance on oil – reportedly 70% of government revenue – is a threat to the House of Saud’s grip on power. (We wrote about this at length a while back.) It gets riskier if negotiations like Cop25 produce tight, emissions cutting rules. Hence why you’ll find them pushing for loopholes in Madrid.

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