by Susannah Littlewood

COP25 debrief –  what the UK needs to do as the world prepares for COP26 in Glasgow

Thanks to our guest blogger this week, Susannah Littlewood, for this illuminating summary of COP25 and how the world is approaching the much-anticipated COP26 in Glasgow. 

Mid-December 2019 saw the two-week run of COP25 in Madrid. Delegates looked to settle the remaining sections of the rulebook for the Paris Agreement which comes into effect in 2020. The COP was met with protesters on the streets and in the halls. After a year of climate conversation shaped by FridaysForFuture and Extinction Rebellion Protests, some of the key issues on the table in December were:

  • Finalising the rules of Article 6 (market and non-market mechanisms)
  • The Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change
  • Common timeframes for the Paris Agreement
  • Climate finance

The conference ran over into Sunday from its original Friday end-time, with several crucial matters still unresolved. These failures of COP25 put increased pressure on the proceedings at COP26 in Glasgow in November 2020. Already notable as a key milestone for the Paris Agreement. Parties were not able to come to an agreement on Article 6, finding multiple points of dispute. For example, on how to ensure no “double counting” of emissions reductions by different countries involved in bilateral trade. There were also difficulties in establishing the status of Kyoto protocol carbon offset unit. Going forward, would countries be able to use these units towards their Paris agreement targets?

Other sticking points were the reporting requirements, time frames, and common metrics for CO2 equivalent conversions under the Paris Agreement, as well as governance and financing decisions on loss and damage. Decisions on these points have had to be delayed to the intersessional meeting in Bonn in June, or to COP26 in November.

Amid this disagreement, at least some consensus was reached. Parties agreed to start the review process of the overall UNFCCC goal in the latter half of 2020. A decision was also reached on a new five-year gender action plan (GAP) for gender-related issues in the UNFCCC process, which takes into account human rights and indigenous communities.

Ambition was a recurring theme throughout the talks, which many argued needs to be raised significantly if we are to address the gap between current pledges and the action demanded by the best available science. This is particularly relevant given that countries are now in the process of finalising their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which set out their climate pledges and will be added up ahead of COP26.

So, how well prepared is the UK to host the next conference, given the key decisions that will need to be made? As well as resolving the hangovers from COP25, there will be round tables on the ambition and implementation of pre-2020 efforts, the conclusions of the Koronivia joint work on agriculture, and finance negotiations are expected to continue to be challenging. The UK will need to present a strong presidency that can lead by example if the conference is to see the successes it needs.

For the financial year 2018/19 the UK boasts being within its target for both CO2 emissions and electricity use. But it appears to be falling short in terms of gas consumption, which has all but replaced coal over the past decade, accounting for 40%, and the majority of our electricity generation in 2018. Although natural gas is certainly preferable to coal in terms of emissions, the UK will have to focus on continuing to build on renewable sources such as wind if it is to meet its targets for natural gas use.

The UK’s commitment to “net zero” by 2050, the first to be made among the G7, does put it among the more ambitious countries in terms of cutting emissions. This may give it some leverage, along with countries with similar or bolder pledges like France, Norway and Sweden, to call for more ambitious targets and the enshrinement of climate pledges in law.

However, the UK’s leadership at the conference in November could be weakened by the fact that it is not currently on track to meet its own targets in the long term, and its rapid emissions cuts since 1990 don’t include those from international aviation or shipping. The government is striving to address the gap between targets and projected emissions and has stated that there are policies still in development, so there is the possibility that the UK could end up back on track over the coming years. Still, given that the targets in current NDCs from all parties are not yet enough to limit warming to 1.5C, increasing ambition at COP26 is paramount. Therefore, the UK may need to step up its efforts more quickly if it is to be able to represent and encourage at COP26 the kind of ambition that was asked for at COP25.

Carbon Brief, ‘COP25: Key Outcomes Agreed at the UN Climate Talks in Madrid’, Carbon Brief, 15 December 2019,

Joseph O’Leary, ‘UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Fast Progress but Not yet Enough to Meet Future Targets’, Full Fact, 21 June 2019,

UK Parliament, ‘Targets and Performance’, UK Parliament, accessed 20 January 2020,

IISD Reporting Services, ‘IISD/ENB @ COP 25 | 2-13 December 2019 | Madrid, Spain | IISD Reporting Services’, accessed 21 January 2020,

Science Based Targets to meet 1.5C​​

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