Tensions are building at the climate summit in Madrid as negotiators scramble to find agreement among almost 200 countries for the launch of a global trading market that would put a price on emissions and accelerate the shift to a low-carbon economy.
Various reports and leaks say progress on Article 6 – the “rulebook” that would govern the market – was halting, at best, and there was open talk that the effort might have to be bumped into the next summit, to be held next November in Glasgow.
But an agreement by Friday night, when the summit is to end officially, or Saturday morning cannot be ruled out. The nature of climate negotiations involving so many countries means that final agreements are typically reached at the last minute – or are not reached at all.
Canada’s negotiating team in Madrid, led by Catherine Stewart, is throwing its full weight behind Article 6. Canada wants to see an emissions-trading market, partly so it has the option of buying credits if its own effort to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 – a goal that is to become enshrined in law with five-year targets – veers off course.
In an interview late on Wednesday, two days before the close of the summit, known as COP25, Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister, told The Globe and Mail that “progress [on Article 6] has probably been slower than we’d like,” although he added that “I think the gap is closing.”
At a news conference later the same day, Ms. Stewart said, “We’re in the thick of it right now.” Neither she nor Mr. Wilkinson could be reached for comment on Thursday.
Environmental groups on Thursday said there were no certainties of a breakthrough by Friday night. “A lot of it is up in the air, and we’ll not likely know until late tomorrow, if at all,” said Jennifer Tollman of E3G, an environmental think-tank.
Reaching agreement on Article 6 is the main goal at COP25 and is the last big unfinished piece of business from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. Negotiators at the 2018 climate summit in Poland failed to agree on how to implement Article 6 and punted the effort to the Madrid meeting. If implementation consensus is not reached this week, the Madrid event will go down as a failure.
If implemented, Article 6 would allow countries with low emissions to sell their allowances to those with high emissions. Putting a price on carbon means high-emission countries, such as Canada, would bear the financial cost of global warming while encouraging them to transition quickly to a low-carbon economy. The supply and demand of these allowances would create a carbon price and marketplace.
Ministers from South Africa and New Zealand are responsible for trying to break the Article 6 impasses. The goal is to create a system that is transparent and ensures there is no double-counting – selling the same credit twice.
One of the sticking points is the treatment of carbon credits under the old Kyoto Protocol, which went into effect in 2005 (Canada, under former prime minister Stephen Harper, withdrew from Kyoto). Even though most of these credits are considered worthless by today’s emissions-reduction standards, a few countries, notably Brazil, want to carry them forward. “A lot of them, such as clean-coal credits, are not credible,” Ms. Tollman said.
While negotiators in Madrid were working nearly around the clock in COP25’s final hours, European Union leaders at a climate summit in Brussels were making fresh attempts to put the trading bloc on course for net-zero emissions by 2050. The ambitious effort would effectively rewrite the rules of commerce in the EU, insisting on sweeping changes in everything from farming to transportation to ensure a low-carbon future.
The so-called Green Deal would put the EU at the forefront in the global effort to keep average temperatures from rising more than 1.5 C over pre-industrial levels – the goal of the Paris Agreement – to prevent catastrophic warming.
But the effort is being resisted by some eastern EU countries such as Poland, whose electricity-generating system is heavily reliant on coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. Poland, Hungary and some of its neighbours want considerable financial help in overhauling their economies to make them less carbon-intensive.
The European Commission has estimated that putting the EU on course for carbon neutrality over the next three decades would cost as much as €290-billion ($425-billion) a year in extra spending to clean up energy systems and infrastructure. According to Bloomberg, Poland alone has said the shift would cost its economy more than €500-billion.