With the northern winter holidays on the horizon, December is a short but busy month. Most of the calendar time is taken up by the biggest climate event of the year – the UN Climate Change Conference. This year’s conference is taking place from 2-13 December, in Madrid, Spain, following Chile’s last-minute decision not to hold it in Santiago. The change in the hosting arrangements for the notoriously challenging event has placed additional demands on the delegates, the Presidency and the organizers, including the UNFCCC Secretariat and the host country.

Five bodies are meeting in parallel in Madrid: the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 25) to the UNFCCC, the 15th session of the COP serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 15), the second session of the COP serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA 2), and the 51st sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 51) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 51). Billed by Chile – which continues to serve as COP President – as the ‘Time for Action,’ this year’s conference is seen by many as a turning point in climate ambition before Paris Agreement implementation begins in 2020.

In Madrid, delegates are expected to take stock of the implementation and ambition of climate action before 2020. The pre-2020 stocktake is expected to be influenced by the Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL) and the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). While the IPCC reports are not on the formal conference agenda, two joint SBSTA-IPCC special events will provide the space for Parties to reflect on the most recent scientific findings on climate change and land and the ocean.

Another task for the COP is for Parties to complete negotiations on the Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP) to ensure that “the whole of the Paris Agreement is in full implementation mode from 2020,” as noted by the SBSTA chair. These negotiations will cover issues relating to Paris Agreement Article 6 (cooperative approaches) such as internationally transferred mitigation outcomes (ITMOs), a market mechanism and a non-market mechanism. A review of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM) is also scheduled to be completed in Madrid. For more information on the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference, please read the SDG Knowledge Hub policy brief on expectations for meeting.

At the halfway point, the Earth Negotiations Bulletin team will host a webinar to update the global sustainable development community on progress made and expectations for the second week of negotiations.

The new venue of the climate COP is not the only reason the Mediterranean region is coming into focus in December. In parallel to the UN Climate Change Conference, the 21st Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention (COP21) is convening in Naples, Italy, from 2-5 December 2019.

The Barcelona Convention and its seven protocols on (1) dumping, (2) pollution from ships, (3) land-based pollution, (4) biodiversity and protected areas, (5) pollution from exploration and exploitation off-shore, (6) hazardous wastes, and, most recently, (7) integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) form the legal framework of the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) on protecting the Mediterranean Sea from pollution. These are legally binding measures and strategic commitments meant to address anthropogenic threats to the Sea and its coasts and to further sustainable development in the region.

Since their adoption in 1975 and 1976, respectively, the MAP and the Barcelona Convention, have become a gateway to greater environmental governance and sustainable development. This convention was the case study for Peter Haas’ early work, including in an article titled, ‘Do Regimes Matter? Epistemic Communities and Mediterranean Pollution Control’ (1989), in which Haas examines how a transnational group of scientific experts – members of an “epistemic community” – redirected their governments towards the pursuit of new objectives by helping develop state policies in compliance with the MAP regime and promoting stronger rules for pollution control.

We will be watching the evolution of the science-policy interface in this regime as contracting Parties to the Convention take stock of their progress – driven by epistemic communities, civil society and government – at a time of accelerating pressure for global action on climate change, sustainable oceans and biodiversity. Barcelona COP21 will address, at the highest level, the issues of marine litter, including plastics pollution, marine protected areas (MPAs), climate change resilience and the blue economy. The meeting’s outcomes are meant to feed into the UN Climate Change Conference and contribute to the UN Oceans Conference (June 2020) and the UN Biodiversity Conference (October 2020), which will adopt a post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

The month will conclude with the 57th meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council, which is taking place from 17-19 December 2019, in Washington, DC, US. Council members are expected to approve a work program comprising 48 projects and five programs under the GEF’s focal areas relating to biodiversity, chemicals and waste, climate change, forests, international waters and land degradation. It is fitting that this meeting will launch us into 2020, which is expected to be a landmark year for climate, biodiversity, ocean and chemicals policies that will set the course for the next decade.

From all of us at the SDG Knowledge Hub, happy holidays and best wishes for a productive new year!

Lauren Anderson, Elena Kosolapova, Faye Leone, Lynn Wagner