Climate Crisis Weekly: Highlights from the UN climate change summit in Madrid

  • COP25: What was — and was not — achieved at the UN Climate Summit in Madrid.
  • Climate activist Greta Thunberg is TIME’s 2019 Person of the Year.
  • Why melting ice in the Arctic directly affects every one of us.
  • Which US states cut their environmental agency budget and staff numbers? This map will tell you.
  • And more…

The 2019 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25) kicked off in Madrid on December 2. Delegates from across the globe worked to come up with a concrete plan to implement the Paris Agreement. It concluded on Friday, December 13. Carbon credits were a big focus of the summit. Quartz explains what that is:

Carbon credits could allow a polluting country far from a tropical forest (say, Norway) to close the gap in their climate goals by paying to preserve forests in a place like the Amazon basin.

So what happened? The Guardian reports:

Negotiators finally managed over [last] weekend to put out a text on the future of carbon markets. It is only a first step, and there are still major disagreements over how carbon credits should be counted and how countries’ success in meeting previous carbon targets should be allowed to count toward their future targets.

There is still no guarantee of any resolution to the disputes over carbon markets.

If this is not resolved, this will impede the fact that by next year, countries are supposed to realign their emissions-cutting targets of staying within 2C (and hopefully 1.5C) of global heating above pre-industrial levels.

As Bloomberg Environment explains:

Countries have until November — the date of the next major climate talks by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, scheduled for Glasgow, Scotland — to announce how they will make even deeper cuts to climate pollutants than they promised in 2015 in the lead-up to the Paris Agreement.

After that, countries are required to revisit and strengthen their carbon cuts every five years.

Further, young people played a large role last weekend, with a big march on Friday, and on Monday, they put pressure on negotiators at the conference to come up with a definitive plan for reducing emissions and addressing climate breakdown.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres implored businesses working to achieve net zero to demand more support from governments on Wednesday.

According to Climate Home News, also on Wednesday:

COP25 president Carolina Schmidt announced that 73 small and developing countries had signaled their intention to enhance their climate plans, and 72 countries working to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 joined a high ambition coalition launched in New York in September.

Meanwhile China, India, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia have made no indications of their willingness to enhance their ambition. The US is leaving the Paris Agreement. Australia is on the record saying it will not change its goal.

Russia also made no moves to further cut carbon.

Oh, and Japan was given two satirical Fossil of the Day awards by NGO Climate Action Network for refusing to phase out coal.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has been named as TIME magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year. Every year, TIME names the person who the magazine considers “for better or for worse… has done the most to influence the events of the year.”

Thunberg, 16, is the youngest person to ever be named TIME’s Person of the Year.

TIME editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal explained why the magazine chose the young climate activist on the Today show on Wednesday:

She became the biggest voice on the biggest issue facing the planet this year… coming from essentially nowhere to lead a worldwide movement. And she also represents a broader generational shift in the culture that we’re seeing from the campuses of Hong Kong, the protests in Chile, to Parkland, Florida, where the students marched against gun violence. Young people are demanding change, and urgently. She embodies youth activism.

Her rise in influence has really been extraordinary. She was a solo protester with a hand-painted sign 14 months ago. She has now led millions of people around the world — 150 countries — to act on behalf of the planet. She’s taken this issue… from backstage to center.

TIME’s choice of Thunberg has brought out rancor on social media, in addition to praise. (I have personally seen some incredibly hateful, profanity-filled comments from adult men about a girl who wants to fight pollution and protect the environment.)

For those of you who have a problem with Greta Thunberg’s message, mere existence — or just the “power of youth” in general — this article might be worth a read by Robert Shrimsley at the Financial Times: “Why Middle Aged Men Hate Greta Thunberg.” (Donald Trump ought to read it, too.)

Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd is a leading international expert in weather and climate. Shepherd was president of the American Meteorological Society in 2013 and is director of the University of Georgia’s Atmospheric Sciences Program. He published a piece for Forbes on December 11 about NOAA’s Arctic Report Card 2019, which was released this week.

Shepherd listed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) main findings:

  • Mean annual land surface air temperature north of 60° N for the period October 2018-August 2019 was second warmest in over 119 years.
  • The Greenland Ice Sheet is now shedding about 267 billion metric tons of ice per year.
  • Thawing permafrost is releasing almost 300-600 million tons of net carbon a year to the atmosphere.
  • The winter sea ice extent in 2019 was just shy of the record low in 2018.
  • August mean sea surface temperatures in 2019 were 1-7°C warmer than the 1982-2010 in major regions of the Arctic.

He then asked, What does this have to do with those people who don’t live in the Arctic — and frankly, not many of us do? He gave three answers:

  1. The Bering Sea is warming up, and that affects our food supply. The eastern half of the Bering Sea produces “more than 40% of the US catch of fish and shellfish (valued at more than $1 billion annually),” according to NOAA. That’s seafood like salmon and king crab Arctic cod.
  2. As highly reflective ice and snow melt, it allows more of the sun’s energy to be absorbed. And then that in turn leads to more warming. The result? That affects jet stream patterns that control extreme weather patterns where we live, such as storm surges and flooding.
  3. Greenland’s rapid ice melt — even a portion — is dangerous to humanity. For example, by 2020, nearly 50% of the US population will live in coastal areas, and sea rise is going to adversely affect those populations with coastal flooding.

So, in short, it affects everyone — a lot.

The Environmental Integrity Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that advocates for effective enforcement of environmental laws, examined the environmental budgets of 48 states (excluding Hawaii and Alaska).

If you click on the link above, you can access an interactive map on their page that gives you spending and staffing data for each state. Here’s what they found out overall:

We found that 31 states reduced funding for their environmental agencies’ pollution control programs, with 25 states imposing cuts of at least 10%. Forty states reduced staffing levels at their environmental agencies, with 21 states cutting their environmental workforce by at least 10%. Overall, states eliminated 4,400 positions at agencies responsible for protecting the environment.

And yet good environmental programs have never been more needed.

The European Commission (EC) released a new climate change action plan on Wednesday known as the European Green Deal, with the subtitle, “striving to be the first climate-neutral continent.” The plan aims to make the European Union “climate neutral” by 2050.

The Hill writes:

The EU is currently third, behind China and the United States, in global greenhouse gas emissions. The new plan contains even more ambitious emissions cuts than the EU’s Paris Climate Agreement commitments. The EU’s goal for 2030 has gone from a 40% reduction to a 50% reduction, with the added goal for 2050 of eliminating 100% of the bloc’s net greenhouse gas emissions.

But the European Green Deal is light on the details of how this massive transition would actually proceed. For example, the plan doesn’t provide a detailed description of the energy sources that would power the EU to zero emissions by 2050, what technologies might help it get there, or any policy mechanisms that could help incentivize climate-friendly business practices. [EC president Ursula] von der Leyen acknowledged this, calling it a ‘broad road map,’ rather than a step-by-step action plan.

However, the plan does recommend a carbon tax that would apply to emissions associated with imports from countries with weaker climate policies.

ABB FIA Formula E champion Lucas Di Grassi is a UN climate ambassador and electric mobility entrepreneur. He traveled to New Delhi, India, to learn more about the fight against air pollution. He then made a documentary about his experiences there, which Formula E debuted on Thursday.

Di Grassi took on the role of UN ambassador for clean air in 2018. At the time, the Brazilian racer said, “For me, it’s a lifetime achievement to be a part of the UN Environment Programme.”

Di Grassi’s 26-minute documentary is called The Race for Clean Air. You can watch the entire film below:

In this week’s Fire Drill Friday, Jane Fonda was joined by Oscar-winning actor Sally Field. Field is speaking in the video below, and she was later arrested at the US Capitol building.

This week’s protest was about how “jobs, communities, & just transitions can’t wait”:

The climate emergency requires us to rapidly transform our energy system and key industrial sectors in many ways — and it is up to all of us to ensure this is done in a way that benefits workers and communities. If we do this right, transforming our energy systems and industrial base can and will create millions of good union jobs that provide a living wage, full benefits, a safe workplace, and the right to collective bargaining.

Check out our past editions of Climate Crisis Weekly.

Photo: CNN

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in White River Junction, Vermont. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.