Reverse action – UN climate talks scrap critical areas of progress and make too few new commitments

As the UN climate talks head towards their conclusion in Madrid, Spain, IIED director Andrew Norton said:
Press release, 13 December 2019

"The fate of the Paris Agreement is in the balance. Instead of putting the world firmly on track to tackle the climate emergency, agreement on two vital pillars – how to measure and report progress on government commitments and how to ensure that emission trading does not allow double counting of emission reductions – is unravelling.

"The meeting’s moves into reverse are alarmingly out of step with the accelerating urgency of the crisis and people’s demands for increased action. Every day that goes by, the brutal realities of the devastation to people’s lives everywhere are increasingly stark.

"All of the past year’s work to agree standard measures for tracking progress on climate action has been thrown out. China, Saudi Arabia and other members of the Arab group must not be allowed to block agreement on a universal way to measure countries’ climate action.

"Efforts to agree offsetting for hard-to-reduce emissions threaten to derail the Paris Agreement’s integrity if these talks are allowed to agree measures that count emission reductions twice.

"The United States blocking progress on loss and damage on a technical issue also threatens to unravel rare progress on this most political of issues.

"In a positive move, the European Union’s commitment to net zero by 2050 clearly demonstrates progress is possible, but few other major economies are rising to the challenge.

"It is unacceptable that governments are failing to take the radical action needed to keep temperature rise below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Instead the talks have been riddled by scrapping critical areas of progress and too few new commitments.

"Given this lack of progress on emissions, vulnerable countries will need concrete evidence of increasing support with climate finance that enables them to develop and thrive. It is vital this money makes it possible for them to adapt as well as to survive the loss and damage they face.

"As the next UN climate summit hosts, the UK and Italian governments face a monumental challenge to deliver any sense of success between now and the next meeting."


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Beth Herzfeld, IIED head of media, on +44 (0)7557 658 482 or email

Notes to editors

  • IIED estimates less than 10% – US$1 in $10 ― of the $17 billion climate finance committed from international climate funds by 2016 were prioritised for local-level activities. Read ‘Delivering real change: getting international climate finance to the local level
  • Too little international climate finance is reaching the local level where people need it most. IIED, for example, found that struggling families in rural Bangladesh spend almost $2 billion a year on preventing climate-related disasters or repairing damage caused by climate change. This is twice as much as the Bangladesh government and nearly 12 times the amount Bangladesh receives in multilateral international climate financing in absolute terms, according to the latest data. Read ‘Bearing the climate burden: how households in Bangladesh are spending too much'
  • The Least Developed Countries suffer seven in ten of the deaths from extreme climate events
  • IIED is a policy and action research organisation. It promotes sustainable development to improve livelihoods and protect the environments on which these livelihoods are built. IIED specialises in linking local priorities to global challenges. Based in London, UK it works in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific, with some of the world's most vulnerable people to strengthen their voice in the decision-making arenas that affect them – from village councils to international conventions.

For more information or to request an interview, contact Sarah Grainger: +44 7503 643332 or