The conclusion from COP25: the politics is as polluted as the planet

As COP25 came to a close, the clamour for a solution to the climate emergency grew louder than ever. But the international talks are at risk of stalling as corporate interests lobby for loopholes and play politicians like pawns.


The yearly international UN climate meeting, at which government representatives meet to agree solutions to the global climate crisis, came to an end last Sunday in Madrid. It was the longest on record, having been scheduled to finish on the Friday.

COP25 was dramatically moved from Chile’s Santiago due to violent anti-government protests, a backlash against inequality and the country’s long-held governance under a neoliberal free-market economy. 

A month later, 27,000 delegates arrived in Spain’s capital. Their goal was to set rules on carbon markets and international cooperation on climate action demanded by the 2015 Paris agreement.

The early challenge for the Chilean presidency of the meeting of moving the talks to Spain due to protests was perhaps a sign of things to come. 

Frustration over slow progress turns to protest

The meeting was unable to reach consensus in many areas. On the Thursday young climate activists stormed the stage demanding leadership on the climate emergency and climate justice. 

It is thought that 200 campaigners and Indigenous Peoples’ rights activists were ejected for protesting the slow progress at the talks.

Madrid was also rocked by protests on the streets – of up to 500,000 people by some estimates, although police in Madrid suggested a far more modest 15,000. 

New Zealand Indigenous rights activist Kare Sherwood-O’Regan demanded that governments “stop taking up space with your false solutions”. 

In her final speech at the conference, 16 year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg said that COP “seems to have turned into some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes”. 

Thunberg’s description was accurate. The talks continue to be undermined by corporate fossil fuel interests who see a strong international agreement on tackling the climate emergency as a threat to their profit margins. 

What’s gone wrong with COP?

COP25 concluded that deeper cuts to emissions are needed than agreed in 2015 in Paris, as those targets would put the world on track for 3C of warming, which would submerge coastal cities and destroy agriculture worldwide.

This year, the scale of the global climate emergency became terrifyingly clear. So too did the influence of the fossil fuel industry on the talks, that finances the lobbying of governments explicitly to derail attempts to regulate them.

At COP25 in Madrid, the door was literally shut on values and facts as civil society and scientists demanding an end to the climate emergency were temporarily barred from the talks. 

Politicians squabbled over the Paris deal, particularly the “Article 6” carbon trafficking scheme, which puts a price-tag on nature and threatens Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

In the end, little progress was made on any of the key issues: rules could not be agreed on “Article 6”, no meaningful conclusions were reached on raising global ambition, and issues of international justice were left hanging. 

Greenpeace delegates returned declaring that climate politics has been polluted by a fossil fuel industry who play politicians like pawns. Our policy experts maintain that the game is rigged, designed by a neoliberal system that puts profit before human rights and ecology. 

The UK must rise to the challenge as next year’s host

Just as the crisis of confidence in COP grows clear, the UK assumes the presidency of the meeting – to be held in Glasgow at the end of 2020.

Following little progress this year, the pressure is on the new UK government to ensure next year’s summit is a success.

As the host of next year’s COP,  the UK must make a gargantuan diplomatic effort to bring countries together and lead by example in setting the world on track to a zero-carbon future for the planet.

Hopefully with a new government decided for the next five years, and Brexit done at the beginning of 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be able to step up and use his certainty of tenure to lead the UK in tackling the greatest crisis facing humanity.

What's next?