Back to Top

After the Madrid Meeting on the Climate Crisis

In 1992, the nations of the world met in Rio de Janeiro and agreed that they had a responsibility to respond to the reality of climate change. They created the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and agreed that the participating nations would meet once a year. 

COP 25 had the task of answering unanswered questions.

The meetings are called the Conference of Parties (COP) and the 25th such meeting was held in Madrid, Spain from December 2 through December 15. Two of us from the Christian Reformed Church were official observers at the meeting participating with a larger group of evangelicals called the Christian Climate Observer Program.

The Conference of Parties, meeting in Paris in 2015, developed the Paris Agreement which calls for all nations in this agreement to reduce significantly their greenhouse emissions (the cause of climate change), so that the world can reach net zero emissions by 2050. COP 25 had the task of answering unanswered questions before the Paris Agreement goes into effect in November of 2020.

A number of good things happened:
  • The Gender Action plan passed the conference. It seeks to advance the role of women in combatting climate change.

  • There was a very strong show of support for the work on the climate crisis. Organizers say around 500,000 people are taking part in the demonstrations. Officials have not given a figure.

  • Many nations formed the High Ambition Coalition to ensure that the world reaches net zero emissions by 2050. They include the European Union, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Ethiopia and many Pacific island states.

  • The U.S. Climate Alliance, consisting of states, cities, universities and other entities gave many reports on the good work being done in the US to reach the goal of the Paris Agreement.

  • Greta Thunberg, the Swedish 17 year old, was present leading the rest of us in calling for serious reductions of greenhouse gases. 

  • The science is so clear. There have been seven reports in the last several months describing the crisis that will happen if we do not take serious action. Please read this article

  • Both Canada and the EU pledged to get to net zero by 2050. 

Yet, on the other hand, COP 25 was very disappointing. and it is going to require a lot of work for nations, organizations, churches, and individuals who are trying to protect their grandchildren by getting the world to net zero by 2050. On the agenda of this meeting were several important items: 

A central task of COP 25 was to send a clear message to countries that it is imperative that they pledge to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by a significant amount. 

China and India joined the United States in pushing back.

The promised reductions have to be made by the start of COP 26. To date, commitments made by countries under the Paris Agreement are not ambitious enough to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 °C. Latest scientific information emphasizes that global net carbon dioxide emissions must fall to 45 per cent of 2010 levels by 2030 in order to reach net zero by 2050.

COP 25 was widely denounced as one of the most discouraging outcomes in a quarter-century of climate negotiations. The United States, which is withdrawing from the Paris agreement a day after the 2020 election, and other big polluters blocked a nonbinding measure that would have encouraged countries to adopt more ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions next year.  China and India joined the United States in pushing back against more emphatic language that calls on countries to enhance their climate-action targets in 2020. 

The second disappointment was carbon trading. One of the mechanisms that nations can use to get to net zero is buying and selling carbon emissions. Using this scheme, a nation with high greenhouse gas emissions can purchase the right to emit greenhouse gas emissions from a nation that has successfully reduced their emissions. But this trading process must produce a real reduction of emissions. COP 25 needed to develop a process for trading that really works. 

The rules on carbon trading was one of the most contentious issues and COP 25 postponed dealing with it. Australia and Brazil were among the countries that insisted on measures widely viewed as loopholes, including the ability to carry over credits earned under an old trading system. 

Developing countries have to deal with the significant damage.

Another important issue is ‘loss and damage.’ Developing countries have to deal with the significant damage that the climate crisis has caused, but they can’t afford to do so. For instance, the Pacific island of Kiribati has already suffered because of sea level rise. That nation has had to purchase land on Fiji, so that they have a place to live once Kiribati becomes uninhabitable in about ten years.  

Loss and Damage would hold the developed world legally liable for these damages because they are the countries most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. Several developed countries pushed back on loss and damage. Though there was a general agreement about the need to help poor countries cope with climate disasters, an agreement to fund failed because there was disagreement about whether major polluters could be held liable for climate damages in the future.

The work of the Climate Witness Project World Renew, and the Office of Social Justice on the climate crisis will continue with the direction provided by the 2012 Synod.  Christians know disappointment, but we continue because God continues to lead.

Want to be a part of the work of the Climate Witness Project?  You can sign up to be a partner here.  
Photo by Javier Martinez on Unsplash

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.