Madrid’s Logistical Marvel: Elizabeth May at COP25

Former Canadian Green Party leader and regular Policy contributor Elizabeth May will be filing all week from COP25 in Madrid. This is her second dispatch.

Elizabeth May

Dec. 10th, 2019

MADRID — This COP had trouble finding a home. The United Nations system moves the COPs from region to region on a five-year rotation. Last year was Eastern Europe, and Poland’s turn. This year was for the Americas and Brazil had offered.

When far-right populist President Jair Bolsonaro took office, he announced Brazil was no longer interested, which was just as well given the burning of the Amazon rainforest not long afterward. Into the breach stepped Chile, and COP25 set for Santiago. Then civil unrest gripped the city. Chile decided at the very end of October that the security risk was too great. With only weeks until the conference was due to begin, it was homeless.

Amazingly enough, Spain offered to host. Even more amazingly, they have pulled it off. Delegates often express awe at how well the venues are working. The IFEMA convention centre, with its acres and acres of cavernous pavilions, is hosting plenaries, workshops, scientific meetings, clean tech trade shows and more. It’s a substantive-negotiating-session-meets-a-Las Vegas-trade-show. The vibe feels like a cross between Davos and SXSW. Over 20,000 people are doing their work in spaces that, a few weeks ago, were either vacant or busy with other trade shows. In fact, in the first week, delegates competed with the 2019 Madrid Horse Week. The logistical triumph of COP25 alone is a testament to the commitment of its delegates.

Chile is still running the meeting. In UN lingo, Chile has the “presidency” with Chilean Minister Carolina Schmidt chairing the monumental and complex Rubik’s cube of negotiations.

More ministers arrive by the day. I have run into and chatted with the new environment ministers from Manitoba and Quebec, as well as British Columbia’s longer serving minister, George Heyman.

Our federal minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, arrived today and went straight into sessions. Having arrived Sunday with the luxury of time to rest up a bit before my first meeting, I felt sorry for him. I think he was whisked straight from the airport into speaking events.

And while I empathize, I was so disappointed by his first set of remarks. He was on a panel talking about a new World Bank partnership with a range of countries — called the Partnership for Market Implementation. Norway, Japan, Canada, Germany and Spain are all donors to a project assisting developing countries entering into global carbon trading. Today, Wilkinson announced Canada would chip in $5 million (Norway will pitch in $7 million) towards the capacity-building and implementation partnership.

I was especially unhappy that Wilkinson misstated the Paris goal as “as far below 2 degrees as possible” instead of the more urgent goal set in the Paris Agreement — to hold to no more than 1.5 degrees C global average temperature increase.

Canada can and must do better. The minister did say that the prime minister has told him that we should try to “exceed our Paris goal.” Since our current Paris goal remains about half of what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has told us we are required to do, vague notions of doing better are not reassuring.

We have three more days in official negotiations, but the pace remains slow. We may well have to keep talking into the weekend.

More tomorrow!

Elizabeth May is the former leader of the Green Party of Canada.