COP25 Outcome – Another Flop

The COP25 outcome document finally arrived on Sunday. It lists the results of the annual UN climate conference held in Madrid. Find out why even the Secretary-General admits that he is disappointed with it.

In our Ecology story two weeks ago, we talked about the UN climate action meeting in Madrid known as the 25th Conference of the Parties or COP25. We wrote, “The goals are ambitious, but results from past meetings have been underwhelming. Will this one be different?”

The answer to that question about the COP 25 outcome turns out to be “no”. In the end, we saw the same bickering, dithering and fiddling while Rome burns as in all previous meetings. This tweet from UN Chief Antonio Guterres says it all.

COP25 Outcome Tweet from Guterres.  I am disappointed with the results of #COP25.

Organizers planned the conference to run from Monday, December 2 to Friday, December 13. When Friday the 13th rolled around, the stirring scurl of the bagpipes entertained everyone, signifying that the next meeting, COP26, would take place in Glasgow.

However, to nobody’s surprise, the parties hadn’t finished their work. At the urging of host country Chile (the location shifted to Madrid because of Chilean security issues, but Chile still presided) the negotiators worked through the night on what should have been the final Friday of the conference.


The negotiators managed to come up with a draft COP25 outcome text that they could live with among themselves. When they circulated it among the parties on Saturday morning, however, it went over like a lead balloon. As UN News put it, “representatives of NGOs and civil society described it as unacceptable, and a betrayal of the commitments made under the 2015 Paris climate agreement.”

While bleary-eyed negotiators went back to the drawing board on Saturday night, 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg, as usual, spoke for everyone when she declared, “It seems like COP25 in Madrid is falling apart right now. The science is clear, but the science is being ignored”.

As talks dragged on into Sunday, negotiators threw up their hands and decided to kick the can down the road yet again. They deferred almost all key issues to the Glasgow meeting. Although they called their final COP25 outcome document Chile-Madrid Time for Action, genuine action was sadly lacking in Madrid.


In our first COP25 story, we called for three outcomes from this meeting. They were:

  • Emission cuts that are five times tougher
  •  Detailed rules to get honest carbon markets going
  • Implementation plans to use the 200 Nature-Based Solutions science has identified for climate action.  

Let’s take each goal one at a time.


In paragraph 8, the COP25 outcome declaration “Re-emphasizes with serious concern the urgent need to address the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation efforts in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways.”

Nothing in the COP25 outcome declaration says anything about actually setting more ambitious targets or what the process will be “to address the significant gap.” As usual, the high sounding rhetoric held no substance at all. The world is no farther ahead than we were with the existing Paris agreement. If anything, there was some backsliding. The first goal gets an F.


The second goal entails fleshing out the rules for the notoriously vague Article 6, which deals with regulating international carbon markets such as pollution pricing or cap and trade schemes. The parties made no progress on this point at all. The COP25 outcome document doesn’t even mention carbon markets.

The sticking point in the negotiations was that heavy emitters like Australia and Brazil insisted on the right to carry over carbon credits from the 23-year-old and ineffective Kyoto Protocol.  

They also seemed to be more interested in creating loopholes and ways to conceal double-counting than they were in genuinely reducing carbon emissions. The second goal gets an F.


The goal here was to set out clearly defined implementation plans for the 200 Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) identified by scientists. Ironically, despite all the fine words uttered in the declaration, the word “nature” appears exactly once in the entire text.  

In paragraph 15, the COP25 outcome document, “Underlines the essential contribution of nature to addressing climate change and its impacts and the need to address biodiversity loss and climate change in an integrated manner.”  

Not only does this motherhood statement include no concrete plans for implementation, it deliberately avoids mentioning the 200 NDS recommendations. Paragraph 15 manages to eloquently say nothing at all. The third goal gets an F.


To summarize, the COP25 outcome was a flop. There was no substantial progress on any of the tough obstacles preventing global climate action. Many will be quick to condemn the United Nations for being what George W. Bush called “an irrelevant debating society.” 

That’s unfair. Nobody ever intended the United Nation to be a world government. It’s an association. Like any community organization readers may have joined voluntarily, its success depends on its members. If members don’t show up or merely pay lip service at meetings, the organization will be irrelevant. All they’ll do is meet to socialize and plan the next meeting. Does that sound familiar?

If they make a concerted effort to make the world a better place, the organization will get things done. So far, the big carbon emitters, particularly the United States, have not been active participants in the UN organization or its climate action process.  


They’ve devoted their energies to virtue signaling in front of the cameras and in impressive-looking documents like the COP25 outcome declaration while privately blocking all possible progress.

So, the fault lies with the governments of the countries with the highest carbon emissions. It’s always dangerous for governments to abdicate their responsibilities. Politics abhors a vacuum just as nature does.  

In this case, the scientific community has grown tired of watching its findings fall on deaf ears. In the past, they have remained internally focused and apolitical. Usually, they have done this voluntary, but other times policymakers have imposed their silence on them. Regardless, that dispassionate, academic stance is coming to an end.


Leading up to COP25 last October, 400 scientists signed a letter calling for civil disobedience to demand climate action. Many of the signatories are contributors to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). That qualifies them as recognized experts in their fields.

Wearing their trademark white lab coats, twenty representatives of the international group gathered in front of the Science Museum in London to read their declaration. Far from remaining neutral and non-partisan, these scientists openly lent their support to the radical civil disobedience group Extinction Rebellion. You can learn more about their civil disobedience agenda in the book, This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook.

Julia Steinberger is a lead IPCC author. She is an ecological economist at the University of Leeds. She is no wild-eyed subversive. Professor Steinberger told Reuters, “We can’t allow the role of scientists to be to just write papers and publish them in obscure journals and hope somehow that somebody out there will pay attention.” That is the attitude that subterfuges like the COP25 outcome document have fostered. 

COP25 Outcome Scientist in Lab Coat Protests Climate Inaction


When leaders fail to take action, they leave experts and the public no choice but to take extreme measures. Extinction Rebellion condemns violence. On the other hand, they have no qualms about peacefully breaking the law and authorities locking them up in the process.  Police arrested over 1,300 members on the day the 400 scientists read their declaration.

Policymakers aren’t merely missing the opportunity to take climate action by publishing this flimsy COP25 outcome document. They’re missing the chance to address this issue through calm, orderly discourse. They seem oblivious to the hornet’s nest they’ve stirred up on the world’s streets through their own inaction.

Meeting to plan the next meeting isn’t going to cut it anymore, not even with bagpipes. Scientists and ordinary people have already demonstrated that they’re not going to accept that any longer. It’s time for politicians and climate contrarians to learn the facts about the climate crisis and what the Nature-Based Solutions entail. They also need to learn to read the public’s mood, which is no longer in denial.

We always have more to learn is we dare to know.

Learn more:

Chile/Madrid Time for Action (COP25 Outcome Document)
UN News
Associated Press
This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook
Climate Crisis Becomes Undeniable
COP25: Will It Lead to Climate Action?
Greta Thunberg: “How Dare You?”
Happy International Day of Non-Violence


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