Madrid, Spain – United Nations leaders and delegates arrived at COP25 on Monday in Madrid to begin a two-week summit on climate change, amid dire warnings from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of the fast-rising perils of a global environmental challenge.
The conference was planned to take place in Chile, but unrest there saw the location changed after Spain stepped in at short notice. The South American nation continues to preside over the conference.
The UN Conference for Climate Change began a day after Guterres argued that climate change can only be kept under control if carbon neutrality was reached by 2050, greenhouse gas emissions were cut by 45 percent of 2010 levels by 2030 and global temperatures increases were limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
Guterres described the international community’s efforts so far to reach these targets as “utterly inadequate”, as he highlighted a collective lack of “political will” saying “the point of no return is no longer over the horizon.
“It is in sight and hurtling toward us.”
Proceedings for COP25 got under way early on a cold and sunlit morning in Madrid’s IFEMA exhibition and trade fair centre, with a handover ceremony bringing together officials from last year’s COP conference host country, Poland, and Carolina Schmidt Zaldivar, environment minister of this year’s presiding nation, Chile.
Overall some 50 world leaders will attend, although one notable absentee will be US President Donald Trump, who last year announced his country’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
However, Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi will be present, leading a congressional delegation.
The formal inauguration will take place with speeches by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, Guterres and Hoesung Lee, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
A special announcement is expected from the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), formed by governments of nations threatened by climate change, and highlighting a new financing mechanism to enhance cooperation between these countries, as well as efforts to address the increasing impact of climate change on human rights.
Posters of Chilean landscapes flank the sides of the broad, treelined approach road to IFEMA on Madrid’s eastern side, where 25,000 delegates from nearly 200 different countries will try to thrash out deals.
Key meetings will centre on how the landmark 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement becomes fully operational, in particular mechanisms for trading carbon, as well as the groundwork needed for fresh climate pledges due to be made by all Paris signees before the end of 2020.
Security is tight at the IFEMA centre, with more than 5,000 Spanish police on duty outside the buildings, as well as 450 private agents backing up the UN’s own blue-clad operatives.
Twenty cyclists from the Moving for Climate NOW organisation travelled 500 kilometres (311 miles) to arrive on electric bikes to hand a climate change manifesto to the conference authorities.
Teenage Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, travelling to the conference across the Atlantic Ocean by catamaran, is now expected to land in Lisbon on Tuesday and reach Madrid by train or electric car soon after.
Local media reported she may take part in a large climate change demonstration in the Spanish capital on December 6.