[Burning Issue] Outcome of the Madrid Climate Talks


  • The 25th annual talks under the UNFCCC referred to as the Conference of Parties (COP) ended in Madrid.
  • The countries party to the Paris Agreement failed to agree on various important aspects regarding climate change like:
    • rules and procedures to govern a global carbon market
    • finance for losses caused by extreme weather events
    • on meeting the commitments made before the agreement and on raising their ambitions.
  • This two weeks of negotiations in the longest COP ever hence is regarded as a spectacular failure.

What was the agenda set for Madrid COP?

  • There was only one major agenda for the Madrid talks to negotiate and decide — the rules for a new carbon market to be set up under the Paris Agreement.
  • That would have completed the Paris Agreement rulebook that was finalized in Katowice in 2018, without the provisions related to carbon markets on which countries had major disagreements.
  • Two other issues came to dominate the discussions were:
  1. First, relating to the demand to enhance climate actions being currently taken, and;
  2. Second, to make developed countries accountable to their climate obligations in the pre-2020 period

What did India pursue?

  • India played a mixed role. It demanded the carryover of the untraded emission reduction certificates held by Indian companies (estimated at 750 million Certified Emissions Reductions or CERs), which they can sell to raise funds.
  • On the question of ‘loss and damage’, India urged developed countries to give financial teeth to the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM).
  • India’s current efforts are already much more compared to even rich and developed countries. Thus, India reiterated its stand for ”Common but Differentiated Responsibilities”.
  • India played a strong role in critiquing the developed world’s continuing poor record on climate action.
  • India also took a lead in calling for more finance for developing countries for climate action, with the minister emphasizing that “not even 2 per cent” of the promised “$1 trillion in the last 10 years” had been delivered.

Outcomes: An incompetent agreement

  • The first draft of the agreement had these options but was heavily bracketed — each bracket representing a difference of opinion and different option on the table.
  • The revised draft was put before the negotiators on, many of the earlier options had been removed. This triggered angry reactions from whoever was backing those.
  • The European Union, Spain, Bangladesh, Belize, Colombia, Grenada and many others pointed out that the draft text did not strongly ask the countries to raise the “ambition”.

Lack of ambition

  • This was supposed to be a COP of ambition. However, these ambitions were reflected in nowhere.
  • Countries such as India and China lamented the fact that a provision on creating a work programme to assess the performance of developed countries on their pre-2020 promises had been dropped.
  • The problems we are facing today are not because of lack of intent but because of lack of implementation which is very glaringly visible in the unmet pre-2020 targets.

The US deviance

  • China had already made it clear that strong provisions on the assessment of pre-2020 actions was “very important for all developing countries”, and needed to be strongly reflected in the final agreement.
  • The United States strongly objected to even a mention of assessment of pre-2020 actions and demanded that it be removed.

Carbon Markets ignored yet again

  • While all this was being discussed, the draft text on carbon markets had not even been finalised.
  • The provisions related to carbon markets have been deeply contested with India, Brazil, China and some other developing countries.

The most contested issue: Article 6

  • Ahead of COP25, many expected a key focus to be agreeing rules for “Article 6” carbon markets and other forms of international cooperation.
  • This deals with the question of how to deal with billions of Kyoto-era carbon offset “units”, potentially amounting to more than five billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
  • These units were mostly generated under the Clean Development Mechanism, where projects in developing countries created “certified emissions reductions” (CERs) in the developing world.
  • This was the last remaining piece of the Paris regime to be resolved after the rest of its “rulebook” was agreed in late 2018.

What is it all about?

  • Article 6 contains three separate mechanisms for “voluntary cooperation” towards climate goals, with the overarching aim of raising ambition.
  • Article 6.2 governs bilateral cooperation via “internationally traded mitigation outcomes” (so-called ITMOs), which could include emissions cuts measured in tonnes of CO2 or kilowatt-hours of renewable electricity.
  • If these rules are well-implemented, supporters argue that Article 6 could unlock higher ambition or reduce costs, while drawing in the private sector and spreading finance, technology and expertise around the world.

‘OMGE’ for net climate benefits

  • The final major area of Article 6 disagreement was around the idea of securing “overall mitigation in global emissions” (OMGE), a concept introduced in the Paris text for Article 6.4.
  • OMGE is supposed to ensure a net-benefit for the atmosphere, rather than a zero-sum outcome where emissions in one place are offset by reductions elsewhere.
  • Some groups argued that the only way to achieve OMGE was to automatically cancel a portion of any offsets created under Article 6.
  • They argued that applying this cancellation would create an imbalance that could skew the market.

Few successes to count


  • While the main financial matter being discussed at this year’s COP was how to support countries affected by extreme climate impacts, the usual standing items were also being considered.
  • Both the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) guidance documents were caught up in the debate around whether to instruct them to start working more specifically on loss and damage.
  • There was also some discussion about the creation of a new climate finance goal, now that the deadline for “$100bn by 2020” (agreed in 2009 at the Copenhagen COP) is almost up.
  • Another issue being considered was long-term climate finance (LTF), a workstream that examines progress and scaling up of climate finance, but which is due to end in 2020.

Gender action plan

  • A rare success story at this year’s COP was a decision on a new five-year gender action plan (GAP), intended to “support the implementation of gender-related decisions and mandates in the UNFCCC process”.
  • The original plan, agreed at COP20 in Lima, “seeks to advance women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and promote gender-responsive climate policy and the mainstreaming of a gender perspective”.
  • Early negotiations did not go smoothly. Parties initially failed to deliver a text for consideration, owing in part to disagreements about the inclusion of text relating to human rights and just transition.

What is sought next?

  • A number of countries — mainly the ones most threatened by climate change, such as small island states, some developed countries and civil society organisations — had been demanding that countries take more climate actions.
  • They called upon all the countries to update their climate action plans, called Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs, with greater commitments by next year.


  • The Madrid talks were expected to nudge all countries to scale up their commitments under the Paris Pact — Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs.
  • The developed countries including the EU and US were, however, non-committal when it came to honouring their previous pledges on funds and technology transfers to the developing countries.
  • CoP 25 was an opportunity to answer the questions that have been raised over the UNFCCC’s processes.
  • Unfortunately, the two weeks of negotiations have been an opportunity lost.







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