Dec 16, 2019 06:01 PM

World Fails to Agree on New Carbon Cuts at Madrid Talks

Emissions billow from a power plant in Huai'an, East China's Jiangsu province, on June 30. Photo: VCG
Emissions billow from a power plant in Huai'an, East China's Jiangsu province, on June 30. Photo: VCG

The United Nations’ climate talks that concluded in Madrid Sunday failed to reach an agreement on new carbon emission cuts to keep the level of global heating well below the threshold of climate-related catastrophe.

After a delay of about 40 hours, nearly 200 U.N. member countries agreed in a closing statement of the 2019 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to voluntarily submit further pledges by next gathering in Scotland at the end of 2020.

“[Members of the conference stress] the urgency of enhanced ambition in order to ensure the highest possible mitigation and adaptation efforts by all Parties,” the statement said, adding that the two-week conference, also known as COP25, “invites” parties to submit new pledges by September next year.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in a Twitter post that he was “disappointed with the results” of the Madrid talks. “The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis.”

“I am more determined than ever to work for 2020 to be the year in which all countries commit to do what science tells us is necessary to reach carbon neutrality in 2050 and a no more than 1.5 degree temperature rise.”

In the landmark Paris climate agreement reached in 2015, world leaders committed to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and try to remain below 1.5 degrees compared to preindustrial levels. Current pledges would put the planet on a trajectory to warm more than 3 degrees by the end of the century.

The latest conference took place amid mounting global anxiety over the climate crisis, with 2019 set to be one of the warmest years on record, as wildfires tear through the world’s forests, and ice loss accelerates in the Arctic.

Bai Yunwen, director of the Beijing-based environmental group Greenovation Hub and an attendee at the conference, told Caixin in an email that the levels of urgency and effort on show during the often-fraught negotiations at the conference “left much to be desired.”

“Ministers from all countries critically need to transform this urgency into determined climate action,” Bai added.

China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, is on track to meet its national targets under the Paris accord earlier than planned.

Li Shuo, a policy advisor at Greenpeace East Asia who was also present at the conference, told Caixin Global that the likelihood of China overdelivering on its Paris pledges meant the country could afford to shoot for more ambitious targets.

“We believe China should peak its greenhouse gas emissions much earlier than 2025, after which emissions should decline rapidly,” Li said.

That kind of ambition could give China crucial leverage in driving the transformation toward a low-emission world, Li added. “If China leans toward a more ambitious position then it will be in an interesting position to sway the outcome of the entire conference,” Li added.

Contact reporters Matthew Walsh ( and Lu Zhenhua (

You've accessed an article available only to subscribers
Share this article
Open WeChat and scan the QR code