COP25 president: ‘social and environmental crises are two sides of the same coin’

Diálogo Chino spoke with Carolina Schmidt about upping countries’ climate ambition and the pain of moving talks to Madrid

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Carolina Schmidt COP25 Madrid

Chilean environment minister and COP25 president Carolina Schmidt spoke to Diálogo Chino (image: UNFCCC)

More than 30,000 people will descend on Madrid this week for COP25, the UN’s climate change summit. Presided over by Chilean environment minister Carolina Schmidt, countries will endeavour to finalise the rules for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global warming well within 2C.

Originally planned for Santiago, Chile, but relocated to the Spanish capital because of widespread political unrest over inequality and stagnating living conditions, COP25 president Schmidt has warned that it will be impossible for countries to develop properly without tackling climate change.

In an exclusive interview with Diálogo Chino, Schmidt talks about her hopes for the summit, Latin America’s role despite not providing the venue, and how to get countries – including her own – to boost their ambition and climate action.

Diálogo Chino [DC]: Did the crisis in Chile and the transfer of COP25 to Madrid change your expectations about the meeting?

Carolina Schmidt [CS]: It was very painful not being able to host COP25 in Chile. We had to give up being the venue, but we did not renounce the deep conviction about the relevance of Chileans and the whole world to urgently promote climate action.

…it’s time to act. It’s not a slogan, it’s a necessity

The world is experiencing an unprecedented climate and environmental crisis. The global temperature is becoming the warmest in [recorded] history, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest ever [recorded] and emissions from the energy industry continue to grow at a frantic pace. Antarctica is melting three times faster than a decade ago.

That is why it’s time to act. It’s not a slogan, it’s a necessity. Every measure that is not taken, every commitment that is not undertaken is a step backwards in the fight against climate change. This is a challenge that we assume as president of COP25. 

DC: Do you think the change of COP venue has put Latin America at a disadvantage?

CS: We took on the presidency of COP on behalf of Latin America and the Caribbean after Brazil refused an invitation to host talks last year. Precisely because we are convinced that developing countries are the most affected by climate change and we have many socio-environmental problems that only get worse with global warming. This can only be faced if we work together multilaterally.

DC: How do you, as COP president, plan to keep the Latin American spirit at the meeting?

CS: It is a Latin American COP and we must focus on maintaining that identity. The venue is in Europe, but the COP is from Latin America… We will highlight the difficulties and vulnerabilities of developing countries.

DC: Given the recent [UN] Emissions Gap report and countries’ own commitments, known as nationally determined contributions (or NDCs), what are your expectations about increasing ambition on climate action?

CS: The main objective of the COP25 president is to increase ambition, including on mitigation, adaptation and the means of implementation. During the conference we will update the Climate Ambition Alliance, involving new actors and new themes, especially the participation of local governments and companies.

To achieve implementation and greater ambition, it is essential to bring new issues, subjects and actors to the table. The private, productive and financial sectors, local governments and ministers must come with concrete announcements and collaborations.

DC: Given its current problems, what can we expect of Chile’s climate ambition and the example it has sought to set while presiding over COP25?

CS: The social and environmental crises are two sides of the same coin. You cannot face one without taking care of the other. The climate crisis has a multiplier effect, severely deepening existing social and environmental inequalities. Ambitious climate action needs a fair transition and a special focus on the impact of policies for the most vulnerable people and countries.

45%

Chile’s targeted emissions reductions by 2030 (based on 2016 levels)

At this COP25, Chile will show the preliminary draft of its updated NDC. It’s in line with what the scientific world demands in order to combat climate change: a 45% reduction in emissions [by 2030] compared to 2016, the last year included in Chile’s national emissions inventory.

According to [the watchdog] Climate Action Tracker, the national proposal is ambitious and more transparent than the previous one, moving it in the right direction outlined by the Paris Agreement.

We are in the final stages before presenting the draft climate change law to congress, which will set the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, and a system of governance and responsibilities that will allow us to meet our national and international commitments.

We will continue working on policies that relate to climate and environment to reduce environmental and social inequalities in the country, accelerating the decarbonisation of our activities.

DC: After the negotiations, what results do you expect with respect to Article 6 of the Paris Agreement that deals with carbon markets?

CS: Increasing ambition is the main theme of COP25. The recent Emissions Gap report reveals the urgency of acting and taking drastic measures. From 2020 and over the next decade we must reduce emissions 7.6% annually to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C.

To meet this, we need efforts from governments, but also cities, companies and investors, and COP25 will be a great opportunity to boost ambition. We will seek to incorporate the private sector into climate action, especially through global carbon market mechanisms, a necessary tool to increase the implementation of actions.