Climate Crisis

What did we learn from COP25?

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg attends the High-Level event on Climate Emergency during the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid, Spain December 11, 2019

Greta Thunberg addresses delegates at the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid Image: REUTERS/Susana Vera

Shahzada Ahmad
José Domínguez Abascal
Secretary of State for Energy, Government of Spain and member of the Academia Europaea
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Climate Crisis

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

It is the time of year when we celebrate the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which this year has reached a marvellous milestone: its silver jubilee (COP25).

The conference was organized and hosted by the governments of Spain and Chile. Both countries boast world-class resources for renewables and are harvesting the opportunity to build-out their renewable portfolios over the coming decades.

The high point of the meeting was the attendance of Greta Thunberg, who sent a strong message by crossing the Atlantic for the second time in less than three months on a tiny boat. She wanted to make her voice heard loud and clear to policy-makers, and to tell them that business as usual is not the way forward. It is no longer climate change but a climate emergency, and it is time for action.

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It is not unusual to hear protests about subsidies given to renewable energy, but when you look at the numbers it’s the other way around. We should stop funding fossil fuels by ending their subsidies and discontinuing financing; this is one of the most critical climate actions we can take. Renewables need to supersede fossil fuel-based energy; the former are already profitable and have a much lower cost than the latter, and moreover last year renewables created more jobs than any other part of the energy sector.

COP25 was an opportunity to make serious progress and to define ambitious milestones that can be executed in a swift manner. The rising concentration of greenhouse gases, which have reached record levels, suggests that future generations will have to face the catastrophic impacts of our climate crisis, such as sea level rises, increasingly unpredictable and harsh weather conditions, a rise in global temperatures, acid rain, acidic contamination of the oceans and disturbance to ecosystems. To counter these narratives, we need to generate effective momentum for renewable energy to fulfil the objectives, so that the delegates gathered at COP25 can adopt the Paris Agreement (agreed on at COP22). Renewable energy will play a central role in the ecological transition process, and in enabling us to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

Although the deployment of renewables still poses some challenges, their implementation is viable and will be a huge opportunity not only for the planet and the health of its inhabitants, but also in terms of socio-economic impact and industrial development. For example, air pollution, which is linked to climate change, kills seven million people every year and is a threat to human health and security. The last decade witnessed an unprecedented incidence of extreme weather and record rises in temperatures. The average global sea level rise in 2019 was the highest ever since records began in 1993, and around 20 million people were displaced in 2019 due to weather-related events. Recently, 200,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes in the Philippines due to Typhoon Kammuri.


At last year's COP24, no consensus was reached on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which details rules for carbon markets and other forms of international cooperation. there should be a call for negative emissions to be traded under the Kyoto Protocol to offset emissions from developed countries.

Global CO2 emissions have surged by 0.6% to 37 billion tonnes in 2019. There has been a slowdown in the growth of emissions - but that's not enough. Emissions must decrease to net-zero globally by 2050 to achieve carbon neutrality. In order to meet the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement, global greenhouse gas emissions must fall by 7.6% every year between 2020 and 2030. Up to now, the international commitment to reach these targets has been utterly inadequate. Governments are due to review their promises to cut carbon emissions in line with the latest discovery, so that the tone for the world's future can be set.

Nationally-determined contributions are currently inadequate and if we don’t adopt a bolder trajectory, the rise in global temperatures by the end of this century will be catastrophic for humanity and could even threaten our existence on this planet. In order to keep climate change within manageable limits, countries will need to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5˚C, achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030.

Key takeaways from COP 25:
  • It is no longer a climate crisis; it is a climate emergency
  • There was a clear demonstration of increased ambition and commitment showing accountability, responsibility and leadership among representatives towards carbon neutrality
  • There has been a groundswell of action between stakeholders -government, business and civil society - and their contributions are crucial to drive the transformation we need
  • By 2020, nations are to submit updated national climate action plans, referred to as nationally-determined contributions
  • Delegates committed to limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5˚C, to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% of 2010 levels by 2030

As UN Secretary General António Guterres has said, to address the climate crisis we need a rapid and deep change in how we do business, how we generate power, how we build cities, how we move and how we feed the world. COP25 stressed the need to focus on the three pillars of adaptation, mitigation and means of implementation and by doing so building a cleaner, healthier and more prosperous future. Governments and business leaders should be on same page; both need to strengthen their resolve to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions and safely keep the world from warming above 1.5°C.

Emissions anywhere are a threat to humanity everywhere, and we need to take bold action to mitigate climate change.

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