The Climate Summit in Madrid: where do we stand and where are we going?

Luis González, counsel at Garrigues' Administrative Law Department

On December 2 the twenty-fifth Climate Summit begins in Madrid. The meeting takes place at a time when the European Union is promoting specific measures to fulfil the commitments acquired in the Paris Agreement, and Spain has set in motion the Strategic Energy and Climate Framework.

The 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP25 or the Climate Summit, will be held in Madrid between December 2 and 13. Spain will host the Climate Summit after the recent incidents in Chile, although that country will continue to chair it. COP25 will also include the 15th meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP15) and the second meeting of the parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA2).

COP25 aims to address in greater depth the fight against climate change, in line with the commitments reached in the Paris Agreement on December 12, 2015. That agreement presents an action plan to keep the increase in the annual average temperature much lower than 2ºC compared with preindustrial levels and to proceed with the efforts to limit it to 1.5ºC.

The Paris Agreement, adopted by all the countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, constituted a historic milestone in the fight against climate change, since an agreement was reached which is legally binding on the Member States that ratify it. For the purposes of ensuring the achievement of those objectives, a mechanism for review of each country’s commitments is established, as well as a mechanism to facilitate fulfillment.

In the European Union, all actions and commitments in this field are carried out under the umbrella of Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, which makes the fight against climate change an express objective of the Union’s environmental policy. To be specific, through its strategic Framework for Energy and Climate for the period 2020-2030, which shapes the commitment incurred in the Paris Agreement, the European Union has undertaken to (i) reduce, by 2030, the 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40%, (ii) to improve energy efficiency by 32.5% and (iii) to increase the percentage of renewable energies to reach 32% of final consumption.

Furthermore, the Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union and Climate Action amends several of the main legislative instruments of the European Union in relation to climate change for the purpose of ensuring the achievement of the Union’s objectives in relation to climate and energy. It determines how the Member States will cooperate with each other and with the Commission so as to achieve the ambitious goals in relation to energy, in particular, the objectives regarding renewable energies and energy efficiency, as well as the long-term targets with regard to greenhouse gas emissions. It also establishes control mechanisms which will contribute to ensuring that the objectives are achieved and that the various measures proposed form a coherent and coordinated approach.

The European Union and its Member States, as parties to the Convention and to the Kyoto Protocol, have assumed the commitment at the United Nations to report each year on emissions recorded, for which purpose the Member States monitor their greenhouse gas emissions and notify them to the European Commission, which prepares an inventory at European level. All of this is apart from the national communications with data on emissions and removals, policies and measures to reduce emissions and other activities carried out in order to apply the Convention which must be presented to the United Nations.

Spain takes action

As a result of the Paris Agreement and of the responses which the European Union is adopting in this respect, Spain has set in motion the Strategic Energy and Climate Framework. There are three key elements of this framework: (i) the preparation of a Preliminary Draft Climate Change and Energy Transition Law, (ii) the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC) 2021-2030 and (iii) the Just Transition Strategy.

The purpose of the preliminary draft law is to ensure the achievement of the objectives of the Paris Agreement, to facilitate the full decarbonization of the Spanish economy, so that the rational and socially committed use of our resources is ensured, and the implementation of a model of sustainable development to create decent employment.

Furthermore, Spain has submitted this year to the European Union the draft of the PNIEC 2021-2030, a roadmap for the modernization of the Spanish economy for the next decade. That plan envisages a 21% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared with 1990 levels, consumption of renewable energies reaching 42% out of the country’s total energy use –74% in the case of electricity generation–, an improvement of energy efficiency of 39.6% and a reduction from 74% to 59% of foreign energy dependence.

Finally, the Just Transition Strategy includes the necessary instruments to optimize the job opportunities of the transition by means of vocational training frameworks, active employment policies, support and accompanying measures –with particular attention to strategic sectors–, and reactivation plans for the geographical areas which may be affected by this process.

COP25 arrives in Madrid

In this context, COP25 is going to be held in Madrid. The summit will be of huge significance due to the high alert situation in which we are placed: on November 13, the International Energy Agency warned in a report that current climate policies worldwide are insufficient to end the increase in emissions; similarly, on September 25, the latest special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted the need to act urgently so as to prioritize initiatives to address unprecedented and enduring changes in the ocean and cryosphere. Likewise, COP25 faces important challenges: the United States has commenced the process for withdrawal from the Paris Agreement; there is also a lack of intense and sufficient commitments by large carbon emitters, such as China, India and the United States itself.

Therefore, the main question is what can be expected of COP25. First of all, it is envisaged that the technical aspects of the cooperation mechanisms between the parties will be specified. In addition, it is hoped that the process will be launched which should lead to greater ambition in the contributions envisaged and decided at national level in 2020 so as to comply with the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, it is hoped to continue to make progress on the Global Climate Action Agenda to as to promote cooperative action between governments and non-state actors. Finally, there is a wish to commence a new phase in the process, moving from negotiation to implementation.

In order to achieve those objectives, COP25 will create two spaces for debate: the Blue Zone and the Green Zone. The Blue Zone is the space managed by the United Nations in which the negotiation sessions of COP25, CMP15 and CMA2 will take place, as well as events parallel to the official agenda of the United Nations. It is the multilateral negotiation zone itself. The Green Zone is the social participation space which will be available to the entire civil society so that it is a fundamental part and participates directly in the COP, and which will also be supplemented by the organization of different events aimed at the public in general and civil society throughout the entire city of Madrid. In fact, the organizers hope that this will be the most participative COP yet.

In any case, although it is hoped that it will be a decisive boost to global climate action and that new specific actions will be set in motion, due to the difficult circumstances affecting COP25, the most prudent approach is not to anticipate events. The mood in the weeks before the Paris Conference was defeatist and, nevertheless, the results achieved exceeded the most optimistic forecasts. Therefore, expectations are high and one must keep a watchful eye on the events and commitments which may be agreed at the Climate Summit to be held in Madrid.