The opening day of the COP25 summit, held in Madrid from 2nd to 13th December, stood out for the high number of institutions in attendance, and for events and workshops focused on environmental conservation and the mitigation of the issues affecting our planet. The call is for everyone involved to get to work both individually and collectively, as there is no time left for procrastination.
The opening ceremony was attended by 50 heads of state and representatives from leading international organizations. Among them was the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, who didn’t want to divert attention from the climate emergency highlighted by the experts: “Climate disasters are becoming ever more frequent, deadly and destructive, and their human and economic cost is rising. In some regions of the world, droughts are advancing at an alarming rate, destroying human settlements and putting our ability to feed ourselves in jeopardy. Each year, air pollution associated with climate change is responsible for 7 million deaths. Climate change has become a serious threat to human health and safety”.
The Chilean Minister for the Environment, Carolina Schmidt, who is representing her country at the summit, pointed out that “the effects of climate change are there for all to see. Heat waves, flooding, forest fires, melting ice caps and droughts are realities that affect everyone on earth. That is why at this COP we need countries to make concrete, ambitious commitments that will help us reduce emissions around the world. ‘Time for Action’ is not just a slogan, it is a real call to action, a moral obligation”.
The key topics up for analysis and discussion include the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) from the Paris Agreement, the role of businesses in the move towards a low-carbon economy, renewable energies and greenhouse gas neutrality, the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the role of science and innovative technologies in reducing our impact on the world around us and providing insights for policymakers.
With a clear focus on this last point, the Filantropía Cortés Solari group -through Fundación MERI- put together three discussion panels over the course of the day: ‘Science for Decision Making’, ‘Climate Change and Public Policy’ and the screening of the documentary ‘Zifio, The Last Journey’ with a follow-up conversation.
Science for Decision Making
The full implementation of the Paris agreement is scheduled for 2020, and countries are now updating their NDCs and working on long-term strategies. This forum opened the floor for a discussion on the role of science in these processes, and was led by researchers José Luis Samaniego and Pierce Forster; Maisa Rojas, Coordinator of the Chilean Scientific Committee for the COP25; and Leonardo Muñoz, Director of Sciences on the National Council for Innovation and Development.
Samaniego laid out the results of a Latin American study on the level of implementation of the NDCs throughout the region, while Forster focused on the case of the United Kingdom, whose Climate Change Law has established a Climate Change Committee tasked with advising the Government and Devolved Administrations on emissions goals, and with informing Parliament of the progress being made. Maisa Rojas explained the function of the Scientific Committee and the Ministry of Science, highlighting that “scientists have made a clear contribution to the NDCs, as the previous commitments were insufficient”. In fact, Chile has committed to carbon neutrality by 2050. Leonardo Muñoz pointed out that “the role of science used to be a small one, but now the field has much more momentum and weight in the face of interest groups, thanks to the Scientific Committee”.
Climate Change and Public Policy
The goal of this panel was to raise awareness of the need to introduce climate change as a universal focus of all governmental policies, not only those related to the Ministry of the Environment. Communication between the public, private and civil sectors is also vital if they are to be converted into agents of change.
David McGlinchey, Director General of the Woods Hole Research Center, highlighted that “public policies are still in dire need of rigorous scientific backing. They need scientists who are able to connect with all kinds of audiences and make them understand where we need to center our efforts”. “Not all resources are equal, and it is necessary to understand how they work in order to implement better public policies. That’s why we need science”, he added.
Scientist Martial Bernoux focused his comments on how climate change can affect food production. “The global population is growing constantly, and science and technology must be our allies in ensuring a better distribution of resources. If we are unable to achieve that, we will soon see food supply problems where there are currently none.
Patricia Morales, Director General of Filantropía Cortés Solari (FCS), laid the organization’s mission out in detail: contributing towards the conservation of the environment through science and education, with the aim of “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future”. Likewise, she explained that the FCS has learned from experience that “it is impossible to properly develop a project if it isn’t on a local scale. Each community has its own problems and solutions, so it’s important to communicate transparently with civil society and to respect cultures and contexts when it comes to implementing public policy”.
Finally, Patricio Leyton, a lawyer specializing in environmental law, said: “There has never before been so much discussion surrounding the environment. I’m an optimist. We will be able to resolve our differences. We have the very best intentions and everyone here is willing to work towards an agreement”. “We have to take this out into society. We can’t just wait for scientists and states to come to an agreement. We are all responsible for rolling out those changes”, he concluded.
Zifio, the Last Journey
The documentary, created by Fundación MERI, was shown in the Scientific Pavilion, and explains how whales can help provide information showing the negative effects of climate change on marine life, in some cases causing disorientation and even death. It also highlights that teamwork and cooperation are vital in ensuring that research moves forward quickly and is important when it comes to encouraging behavioral changes. Fundación MERI researcher, Sonia Español Jiménez, and a professor from Universidad Palma de Gran Canarias, Antonio Fernández held a fascinating discussion on the topic.
Official Opening of the IPCC-WMO Scientific Pavilion
The first day of the COP25 also saw the opening ceremony of the IPCC-WMO scientific pavilion (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the World Meteorological Organization), which included Andrés Couve, Minister of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation; Hoesung Lee, President of the IPCC; Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization; and Francisca Cortés Solari, Executive President of Filantropía Cortés Solari. These senior executives all underlined the importance of focusing on sustainable development and building bridges between policymakers and other organizations. “FCS is a trailblazing organization that is working to implement sustainability throughout Chile with a range of different activities”, said Minister Couve, who encouraged the audience to look to the philanthropic organization as an example.