From 9 to 13 December, I had the fantastic opportunity to attend the COP25 climate conference in Madrid with three other board members from the network organisation for young professionals in the energy sector, called Young Energy Specialists – Development Cooperation (YES-DC). As the conference is nearly coming to an end, I’d like to share some thoughts and observations.
Although YES-DC hosted several sessions to prepare our delegation of observers, it’s true what veterans had warned us about: you can never be really prepared. The conference is massive, with a multitude of events taking place simultaneously and in different rooms throughout the complex. It takes practice to navigate the venue and the large numbers of negotiations and side-events effectively. The feeling is similar to that at a festival: there are so many cool artists lined up that it seems impossible to choose and it is inevitable that you will miss out on some fantastic performances.
As observers from a small NGO, we did not arrive with a set programme or strategy, besides the event on youth participation that YES-DC hosted on Monday. Each of the delegates followed their own topics of interests. The issues discussed at this conference are focused on making agreements for an international carbon credits market, and these discussions and negotiations are extremely technical. Although I am very interested in the topic, my larger goal for the conference was two-fold: firstly, to better understand the dynamics of international climate negotiations, and secondly to get a sense of what is already happening in climate mitigation and adaptation all across the globe. Trying to get an overview of the current status, I went to an eclectic mix of events and discussions.
Unsure of where to go at first, it seemed like a safe bet to go to high-level vents with important speakers, featuring a multitude of ministers, directors and famous activists present at COP. They invariably called for more action and collaboration. However, these cries felt empty when looking at what the corresponding governments, companies, and organisations have actually achieved and what they are pledging (or not) in the current negotiations. Multiple events I attended featured a large panel of five people or more who agreed with and repeated each other. Only some observers ask critical questions.
Feeling lost and disillusioned, the question I kept asking myself was: What is the value of COP? Why go through the trouble of gathering between 26,706 politicians, scientists, policymakers, civil society and press representatives when most meetings are behind closed doors, and the public events consist of shallow speeches? An answer occurred to me as I almost bumped into the Dutch minister of Infrastructure and Water Management in the toilets, talked to a senior WWF Africa employee, am invited to join the Dutch Director-General of International Collaboration for a bilateral meeting with her UK counterparty, and talk to members of the European parliament about youth participation.
The mere possibility of being in close proximity to so many people in various positions of power is astonishing. This access to information and influence is unprecedented for many, if not all, of the various civil society representatives and activists present. There are still plenty of power differences between countries, delegations and generations. But here, these differences are smaller than perhaps at any other time during the year.
We still have some hours to go in the negotiations, and possibly two more days of extension. The fact that not achieving a deal on the carbon markets mechanism (Article 6) would be a huge loss of face for all parties involved, and the EU Green Deal that was presented yesterday gives me more hope than I’ve felt in the past five days. All we can do now is stay tuned, keep up the pressure, and hope that it indeed will turn out to be #TimeForAction.