By Cecelia Bolon, Environmental Studies
Friday was my last day at COP25. The tension and frustration surrounding the negotiations was especially palpable as the final hours of the conference passed. Negotiations were closed, so as an observer I relied on word of mouth, press conferences, and stock-taking plenaries (open updates from the Chilean COP presidency) to keep up with the progress of negotiations – or lack thereof. While Friday was scheduled to be the last day of negotiations, there was not consensus on a number of key issues, including Article 6, by the end of the day. Negotiations went on until the early hours of Saturday morning, and continued into the day on Saturday. It’s unclear when the negotiations will end and what will be agreed upon when they do.
It felt to me like everyone was really struggling to stay optimistic on Friday. One woman on Twitter posted a picture of a decorative potted tree that had likely been in the conference center for the entire two weeks of COP25 and had clearly not been watered. Its leaves were brown and shriveled, and the tree was clearly dying. “#COP25 mood”, the caption read. There had been a number of demonstrations throughout the week where masses of people demanded more ambitious climate action, but there was a general understanding among everyone at COP that these demands would not be met and that nothing could be done about it.
One issue that kept surfacing in the stock-taking plenaries on Friday was the need to compromise. This is clearly an urgent challenge, since consensus has not been reached on a number of issues, but what is most interesting to me is the fact that “compromise” holds different meanings and consequences for different stakeholders at the negotiation table. For the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), compromise on Loss and Damage, for example, would mean a lack of financial resources to support themselves when the effects of climate change cause irreversible damage to their land, water, and way of life. For wealthy, high-emitting nations like the United States, compromising on Loss and Damages\ would mean setting and following through with more ambitious climate finance goals – something that is technically very feasible for these countries.
Interestingly, I didn’t hear pleas for compromise from civil society and the scientific community at COP. Representatives from these groups seemed to advocate for climate action in line with the most ambitious demands from negotiating countries, and voices demanding climate justice were especially loud. Climate justice has been at the core of the protests that have been led at COP throughout the week. These demonstrations speak to the frustration that civil society has with the divide that they feel between themselves and policy makers, but it doesn’t seem like the demonstrations have done anything to bridge that divide. Throughout the negotiations, it seemed to me that national economic and political priorities take precedence over global climate justice for negotiators from powerful, high-emitting countries. I look forward to reading any text that is agreed upon by the end of COP25 to see which priorities the final language reflects, and I hope that this COP will serve as a turning point after which the will of civil society will shift political priorities towards justice-oriented sustainability and climate action.