The recent bleak results at the COP25 climate summit in Madrid created enough reasons to be pessimistic about the future of the planet.
But next year could see a big shift thanks to three key summits, which could help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect biodiversity and look after the oceans. In many ways, it seems like 2020 will be a make-or-break year for the environment.
Every global environmental report warns that more ambitious action is needed to protect life on land and water and to reduce the growing greenhouse gas emissions. There is a mountain of evidence that if we don't up our game, we will be causing catastrophic, irreversible damage.
Nevertheless, action has been slow.
Countries agreed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius with the Paris Agreement. But emissions are still growing due to fossil fuels, agriculture, and transportation, among other sectors. Global temperature has increased by 1.1 degrees Celcius compared to pre-industrial levels and is set to keep increasing. Almost no countries are on course with their contributions to the Paris Agreement.
At the same time, biodiversity is being threatened. The size of populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians declined 60% in the last 40 years, according to the Living Planet Report of the NGO WWF – warning over the effects of human activity.
But there could be a light at the end of the tunnel. Countries are set to meet in 2020 at three major international summits, seeking commitments to avoid some of these effects. Here is what you should have on your radar for next year that could help improve the future of the planet
Climate change summit COP26 -- Glasgow, Scotland
Grouped under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), countries meet every year to discuss better ways to address the climate emergency. But so far, they haven’t moved at the required speed, with big differences between developed and developing countries.
This year, the summit was held in Madrid, after being moved from Brazil and then Chile, and the results were quite weak. Countries had to finalize the rulebook of the Paris Agreement, securing funding and creating carbon markets to make it operational. But none of that happened.
Next year’s climate talks, COP26, will be in November 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland. They will have to pick up from the bleak summit in Madrid, hoping to get the Paris Agreement moving as well as increasing ambition from countries – which will have to present next year's new pledges.
“We will pull no punches next year in getting clarity and certainty for natural carbon markets and will work with everyone including the private sector for clear rules and transparent measurement,” said UK clean energy minister Claire Perry O’Neill, who will lead the talks.
Biodiversity summit COP15 --- Kunming, China
In October, delegates from more than 190 countries will arrive in the Chinese city of Kunming to finalize and sign a new international agreement to protect biodiversity, which can be compared to the Paris Agreement on climate change signed in 2015 in France.
The new deal will replace the existing one, called the Aichi Goals, a set of 20 targets to be achieved by 2020 to stop the biodiversity loss. Nevertheless, countries failed short to deliver on them. More than 70% of the national strategies to protect biodiversity were less ambitious than what was stipulated in the global goals.
“Natural systems essential to our survival—forests, oceans, and rivers—remain in decline. Wildlife around the world continues to dwindle. It reminds us we need to change course. It’s time to balance our consumption with the needs of nature, and to protect the only planet that is our home,” said WWF head Carter Roberts.
Out of the 20 Aichi Goals, some have seen more progress than other ones. For example, the goal 11, which asks to safeguard 10% of the marine areas and 17% of the land areas for biodiversity, was met by more than 80% of the countries that signed the agreement.
On the other hand, goal 20, which calls for an increase in the financial resources to protect biodiversity, was one of the less successful ones. Less than 15% of the countries that signed the agreement were able to fulfill their commitment, providing lower funding.
Now it’s time for countries to step up their game and create a new set of goals, learning from their previous mistakes. There’s a large expectation for the Kunming summit to create a momentum for further protection of biodiversity, as it happened initially with the Paris climate deal.
High-level conference on oceans -- Lisbon, Portugal
Finally, there are the oceans. Lisbon will hold a high-level conference in June with the objective of scaling up ocean-based action to implement the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, which states to conserve and sustainably use the oceans and its marine resources.
This will be the second year of the conference and it will be co-hosted by the governments of Portugal and Kenya. Its goal will be to adopt a declaration from governments to take action on ocean protection, agreeing to a set of voluntary commitments.
Oceans absorb up to 90% of the anthropogenic heat and one-third of the carbon emissions we produce, and this has consequences for marine life. Oceans are becoming more acidic, sea-level rise is growing as glaciers and the polar ice melts and biodiversity is facing huge stress.