COP25 — The Hard Work of Redefining Prosperity

The COP25 UN climate negotiations, which concluded on Sunday in Madrid, were the longest in the history of the process. This makes sense, because some of the most logistically complicated elements of a cooperative plan to upgrade economic activity everywhere were on the table.

We see the COP25 as having generated important breakthroughs, though also as having shown that too many governments are unwilling to accept the scope and urgency of the climate challenge. If we are to have sustainably prosperous economies, where justice and ingenuity are defining features of the everyday paradigm, we must eliminate reckless climate pollution, and move onto something smarter.

Buckminster Fuller described the human brain as “nature’s most powerful anti-entropy engine.” At the heart of the climate challenge is an ethical imperative, which we frame as follows:

Global heating emissions are destabilizing the climate system, as well as food and water supplies, and the resilience of communities, cities and nations. We must dedicate our intelligence, as individuals and across the fabric of society, to avoiding disaster and rescuing people from injustice.

We want to talk about the COP25 outcomes on four critical levels:

  1. The stakes
  2. What remains unresolved
  3. Breakthroughs
  4. What’s next

The Stakes

The COP25 was planned with a number of historic breakthroughs in mind. It would be the Blue COP, integrating ocean considerations for the first time in substantive ways. It would be the People’s COP, integrating wider civil society and citizen engagement than any previous COP. It would be the COP of Ambition, focusing on accelerated climate action strategies, and the mobilization of resources to speed solutions into the field.

All of these are necessary, if we are to slow and reverse climate disruption and avoid existential threats to communities and nations, and possibly to civilization itself. The carbon budget — the remaining allowable amount of global heating emissions — is rapidly declining, and grave climate impacts are compounding and accelerating.

What remains unresolved

The COP25 did not achieve needed consensus around Article 6 of the Paris Agreement (emissions trading), funding for loss and damage, or significant enhancement of overall public-sector climate finance. It also did not fully integrate the ocean into national climate action strategies, the global climate solutions accounting process, or any specific intergovernmental mandate.

The People’s COP was also less a reality than a wish. We need people in communities, across diverse perspectives, working together to create bold visions for a clean, climate-smart future of sustainable and resilient prosperity. We saw too little progress on commitments of finance for vulnerable and displaced populations and for fast-paced low-emissions development strategies.


The Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action brought together 51 finance ministries, the most ever engaged in the annual UN climate talks, to begin mapping their mandate to the implementation of transformational climate action strategies.

We saw a significant increase in awareness of the cryosphere-watershed-ocean cascade of resilience and value-creation effects. And, we saw a renewed commitment for all Parties to upgrade their NDCs over the next year.

There was perhaps the most detailed and ongoing discussion of human rights in the context of emissions trading. Though the discussions resulted in lack of a final agreement on Article 6 rules, the current state of negotiations may be further along toward a just and transparent outcome than was expected in the past.

Outside-of-government strategies, from the US in particular, got a big boost:

  • Accelerating America’s Pledge sets a new standard for the ambition of US climate policy, starting from local and regional governments and private-sector leadership.
  • World War Zero brings leaders from across the political spectrum into an effort to hold 10 million climate-related conversations in 2020 alone — to get the country thinking with the urgency and vision required to meet the climate challenge.

What’s next

The NDC-upgrading process must:

  1. Integrate the voices, needs, visions, and skills of stakeholders of all varieties;
  2. Provide meaningful opportunities for mainstream finance to drive change;
  3. Integrate food system transformation and climate-smart agricultural innovation;
  4. Leverage mutually empowering multilevel collaborations both within nations and across borders;
  5. Optimize all of the above to protect the climate-stabilizing cryosphere and ocean health and resilience;
  6. Drive down global heating emissions to net-zero as soon as possible.

Climate action innovation in 2020 should include a heavy focus on prioritizing the protection and expansion of natural capital and nature-based solutions. National governments must also incentivize the development of new climate-smart business models that can attract finance through mainstream institutions, at the local level.

At the start of COP26

We expect leadership, in the public or private sector, and on the world stage, will be defined by demonstrating an ability to maximize the flow of mainstream economic activity through the action priorities and science-based targets of climate-smart development and redevelopment strategies.

Let’s all get moving, to make that breakthrough moment inevitable.


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