A U.N. climate summit ground towards a delayed close on Sunday with a handful of major states resisting pressure to ramp up efforts to combat global warming, prompting sharp criticism from smaller countries and environmental activists.
The Madrid talks were viewed as a test of governments’ collective will to heed the advice of scientists to cut greenhouse gas emissions more rapidly in order to prevent rising global temperatures from hitting irreversible tipping points.
But the conference was expected to endorse only a modest declaration on the “urgent need” to close the gap between existing emissions pledges and the temperature goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement to tackle climate change.
Many developing countries and campaigners had wanted to see much more explicit language spelling out the importance of countries submitting bolder pledges on emissions as the Paris process enters a crucial implementation phase next year.
“These talks reflect how disconnected country leaders are from the urgency of the science and the demands of their citizens in the streets,” said Helen Mountford, Vice President for Climate and Economics, at the World Resources Institute think-tank. “They need to wake up in 2020.”
Brazil, China, Australia, Saudi Arabia and the United States had led resistance to bolder action, delegates said, as the summit — known as COP25 — began wrapping up.
It had been due to finish at the two-week mark on Friday but has run on for two extra days – a long delay even by the standards of often torturous climate summits.
Earlier, talks president Chile triggered outrage after drafting a version of the text that campaigners complained was so weak it betrayed the spirit of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The process set out in that deal hinges on countries ratcheting up emissions cuts next year.
The final draft did acknowledge the “significant gap” between existing pledges and the temperature goals adopted in 2015.
Nevertheless, it was still seen as a weak response to the sense of urgency felt by communities around the world afflicted by floods, droughts, wildfires and cyclones that scientists say have become more intense as the Earth rapidly warms.
“COP25 demonstrated the collective ambition fatigue of the world’s largest (greenhouse gas) emitters,” said Greenpeace East Asia policy advisor Li Shuo.
The Madrid talks became mired in disputes over the rules that should govern international carbon trading, favored by wealthier countries to reduce the cost of cutting emissions.
Brazil and Australia were among the main holdouts, delegates said, and the summit seemed all but certain to defer big decisions on carbon markets for later.
“As many others have expressed, we are disappointed that we once again failed to find agreement,” Felipe De Leon, a climate official speaking on behalf of Costa Rica. “We engaged actively, we delivered our homework, and yet we did not quite get there.”
Smaller nations had also hoped to win guarantees of financial aid to cope with climate change. The Pacific island of Tuvalu accused the United States, which began withdrawing from the Paris process last month, of blocking progress.
“There are millions of people all around the world who are already suffering from the impacts of climate change,” Ian Fry, Tuvalu’s representative, told delegates. “Denying this fact could be interpreted by some to be a crime against humanity.”