U.N. Climate Talks End With Big Polluters Blocking Stronger Action

United Nations climate talks ended early Sunday in Madrid with big polluting countries blocking an agreement to enhance climate targets and deferring until next year a set of rules on international carbon trading.

The United States, which is planning to abandon the Paris climate agreement next year and thus may have participated in the climate negotiations for the last time, resisted an agreement on how to compensate poor countries for the economic losses they suffer from climate catastrophes, though there was a general endorsement of finding a way to help them. At issue was whether historic polluters like the United States could be held liable in the future.

The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, offered an unusually blunt assessment of the 25th annual climate negotiations, formally known as the Conference of Parties. “I am disappointed with the results of #COP25,” he said on Twitter. “The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis.”

The climate talks, which had been scheduled to end on Friday, went on for an extra two days, making this year’s session the longest ever. They demonstrated the vast gaps between what scientists say the world needs and what the world’s most powerful leaders are prepared to even discuss, let alone do.

The talks were designed to iron out the last unresolved details of the landmark Paris climate agreement. Under that pact, agreed to in 2015, countries set their own targets and timetables to rein in emissions of planet-warming gases.

There was a push from both rich and poor countries to commit, at least on paper, to ramping up climate-action targets next year. On their current trajectory, average global temperatures are on pace to increase to levels where heat waves would be very likely to intensify, storms to become more severe and coastal cities to be at risk of drowning, according to the scientific consensus.

But there was no agreement on even that. The final declaration included what counts as exceptionally weak diplomatic language, saying only that there was an “urgent need” to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

“This COP was not able to meet our expectations in raising ambition to address the concerns of our people at home and youth around the world,” said Sonam Phuntsho Wangdi, chairman of the Least Developed Countries Group at the talks.

This year’s talks were held amid a surge of protests led by young people, demanding that countries pivot away from fossil fuels and slow down emissions of greenhouse gases.

One of the most contentious cans that was kicked down the road was a new set of rules on carbon trading that would allow countries and companies to trade on emissions reductions. But big countries that have earned credits under an old system held out, proposing accounting loopholes that others considered unacceptable.

Some environmental advocates saw a silver lining in that. No deal on carbon trading was better than a bad deal, they said.