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Climate change

COP 25: High hopes but disappointing conclusions in Madrid

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Mary Robinson and Ricardo Lagos speak at the Sustainable Innovation Forum about the importance of a just transition

On Sunday 15 December, the UN’s longest-ever climate summit drew to a close after an additional 44 hours of tough negotiations. While a final compromise agreement was achieved, the weeks of negotiations, side events and grassroots actions failed to solidify the commitments to ambitious action that needs to be taken if we are to avert the worst of the impacts of the climate emergency.

The Elders’ engagement at the 25th Climate COP in Madrid focused on three key areas: gender equality in climate decision-making, the importance of intergenerational dialogue, and the urgent need for countries to stop investing in, and financing, fossil fuels.

Throughout the summit, The Elders also continued to push for the ratification of the Escazú Agreement, a treaty between Latin American and Caribbean nations to promote justice for environmental defenders, create access to information on climate and environmental issues and to advance the sharing of information and resources between nations.

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Mary Robinson


The Elders call for a shift in investment 

Ministers and diplomats in Madrid were under pressure to boost climate action ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, UK, in November 2020. But a failure to reach consensus on some of the key issues weakened the final decisions on ambition. The Elders continued to speak out on the importance of countries delivering the “fundamental shift in our economic and financial model that is needed to deliver the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals” (Mary Robinson, COP25).

At an event held by Carbon Tracker, Mary Robinson opened a debate providing her views on how the energy transition could advance climate justice and effectively address the impacts of climate change:

“We need action to deliver a truly just transition, so that regions and communities previously reliant on fossil fuel production for jobs and broader economic and social structures are not abandoned, that workers’ rights and dignity are respected, and that new opportunities are provided through investment and education for current and future generations.”

Mary Robinson spoke at the F20 event at COP25 about the role of sustainable finance and impact investment for the implementation of the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement:

“The role of the financial and investment community is critical... Its insights, innovation and influence can play a decisive role in pushing political actors to show real climate leadership.” 

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Ricardo Lagos


Ricardo Lagos spoke at a special Panel Event on ‘The Role of Public Finance for Climate Action in Context of a New Climate Finance Goal’ about the need for finance ministers to be urgently engaged with the issue of climate financing:

#TimeForAction means asking, where is the money? Because it is very difficult to have action without financing it.”

Throughout proceedings, including at two UN High Level events, The Elders also stressed the importance of not only investing in low carbon technologies for a more sustainable future, but also in promoting a just transition that ensures no one is left behind.

While COP25 did not see the levels of ambition needed from the world’s largest emitters on either their commitments to end fossil fuel use or on financing the mitigation and adaption measures needed in some of the world’s poorest countries, these issues remained at the forefront of negotiations and will continue to be critically important over the next 10 months.

There was some good news offered by the business community at COP25, with more than 170 major companies committing to set scientific, verifiable emission reduction targets through the ‘Business Ambition for 1.5 degrees’ campaign. Alongside the UN Secretary-General, Mary Robinson issued the charge for business leaders to continue to mobilise and put pressure on governments for more collective action:

“Business must work with industry peers, governments, labour unions and civil society to unlock opportunities and address technological and market challenges as we all move to the goal of a net zero world by 2050.”

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Mary Robinson addresses the High Level Meeting of Caring for Climate by the UN Global Compact at COP25 (Photo/UNFCCC)


A new Gender Action Plan

In climate talks that could boast few other successes, one significant accomplishment was the approval of a new Gender Action Plan that strengthens gender considerations and women's participation in climate action. The Elders contributed in a number of events during the Madrid summit including the Gender and Climate Change event hosted by the Spanish Government and the High Level Panel Event on Gender, highlighting the important role of women as decision-makers and as agents of change.

Speaking on Gender Day at COP25 in Madrid, Mary Robinson called for inclusivity to be lived out in the actions we all take when tackling the climate emergency. The Elders also published a special Gender Day blog by Dr Katharine Wilkinson on the need for climate leadership that is “more faithfully feminine and more faithfully feminist.”

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Mary Robinson


The Escazú Agreement gains momentum at COP 25

At a COP25 event entitled, 'Advancing Climate Action through Escazú Agreement Standards in Latin America and the Caribbean', Mary Robinson spoke about the unique and historic achievement of the Escazú Agreement, and the need for its early ratification. 

This followed a number of interventions by The Elders in the weeks leading up to the COP on the Agreement including a robust call to action by Elder Zeid Raad Al Hussein published in O Globo and El Pais. Fellow Elder, Juan Manuel Santos commented after Columbia decided to sign the agreement during the Summit:

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Juan Manuel Santos


In the coming months The Elders will continue to call on Latin American and Caribbean leaders to sign and ratify the Agreement. As the first legally binding regional environmental and human rights agreement designed to ensure rights to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, The Elders believe it offers an important model to the rest of the world. Environmental defenders who expose ecological destruction and human rights abuses are at particular risk, the Agreement uniquely provides special protection for them.

The intergenerational injustice of climate change

Throughout COP25, youth activists and campaigners spoke with a clear voice both inside High Level talks, and outside on the streets, on the need for consensus and decisive action. Mary Robinson spent time in dialogue with young activists Xiye Bastida and Sophie Anderson learning about their perspectives on the climate crisis. She was struck by way Xiye, a leader of the Fridays for Future youth climate strike in New York, spoke of the urgency of changing the narrative on the crisis so that people would understand climate change is affecting people now – it is not a distant threat.

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Mary Robinson meets with Xiye Bastida and Sophie Anderson at COP25


Mary Robinson moderated a special climate summit panel that encouraged intergenerational dialogue between ministers and young climate activists organised by UNICEF and OHCHR. The event marked the launch of an Intergovernmental Declaration on Children, Youth and Climate Action, urging Member States to commit to accelerating inclusive child-responsive climate action as part of their nationally determined contributions, including measures to enhance youth participation in decision-making.

At COP25 nine countries signed up to this declaration. As young activists from countries as diverse as Norway, Costa Rica, Zimbabwe and Ireland spoke passionately about the need for children and youth to be included in climate decision-making Mary Robinson reflected that:

“The children have called out the adult world, called us out very effectively, as this is a grave injustice. When I was growing up I did not have that shadow [of climate breakdown]. It’s not fair that we have made children have that fear.”

The Elders also held a number of meetings during COP25 with climate negotiators, UNFCCC representatives, the Environmental Minister of Japan Shinjiro Koizumi, and civil society groups and activists. In all these engagements The Elders stressed that the urgency of a collective response to the climate emergency.

In just 11 months’ time, COP26 will be held in Glasgow. This COP marks the 5-year point when countries must submit new and increased “Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)” which state their intended ratcheting up of domestic contributions to global efforts. Unless there is substantial improvement in climate action and ambition the gap forming between political reality and the demands of people protesting around the world will only widen. The Elders reaffirm their call for urgent climate action to limit global warming to 1.5C.

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