Amid increasing pressure on countries to do more to save the world from climate change, the two-week annual climate conference began in the Spanish capital on Monday with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warning that the climate crisis was fast approaching a “point of no return”.
“By the end of the coming decade, we will be on one of two paths, one of which is sleepwalking past the point of no return. Do we want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in sand and fiddled as the planet burned?” Guterres asked at the opening ceremony that was attended by over 50 heads of states and governments.
His comments come on the back of mounting scientific evidence that the world was not doing enough to ward off the catastrophic impacts of climate change, and that an immediate shifting of gears was required to meet the targets countries had set for themselves under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
On the opening day, most of the talk was about striking a deal over the creation of a new carbon market, an issue that remained unresolved last year as countries finalised most of the other provisions of the Paris Agreement rulebook. The rulebook specifies the processes, mechanisms and institutions through which the provisions of the Paris Agreement would be implemented.
A carbon market allows countries to trade emission reductions between themselves, for a price. A country can earn carbon credit by achieving emission reductions more than its own target, and then trade this credit to others who are struggling to meet their own targets. A similar carbon market existed under the Kyoto Protocol as well. But that regime is expiring next year, and its replacement, the Paris Agreement, is trying to create a new one.
The biggest problem that this proposal has run into is the tussle over the fate of unsold carbon credits. Some countries, led by Brazil, and supported by India and others, insist that the large amount of carbon credits they had accumulated in the previous regime, but had remained unsold, be carried over to the new market. In the last few years, as many countries walked out of the Kyoto Protocol and the rest did not feel compelled to fulfil their emission reduction targets, the demand for carbon credits had crashed, leaving countries like India and Brazil with a large number of unsold credits.
However, developed countries have resisted this demand, saying that weak verification mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol had allowed dubious projects to earn carbon credits.
An agreement over the carbon markets is one of the most significant outcomes on the agenda of the Madrid meeting, but many are already warning that no deal is much better than a weak deal.