Rundown of COP25: People at the center of change

After UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) was moved from Santiago to Madrid, we were not sure what to expect. But Spain pulled off an amazing organisational feat and all aspects of the COP were in place for the start. Our team on the ground had the opportunity to bring renewable energy into all our discussions because how can we address the climate emergency without talking about sustainable energy system? For those of you who weren’t there here is our list for what we believe are the top 10 highlights of the conference:

1) Our main message for COP25 was to explain why cities are key drivers of the energy transformation. Lea Ranalder and Rana Adib delivered the key findings of the Renewables in Cities Global Status Report over 10 times, at various side events and panels, explaining opportunities and benefits that renewables present for cities.

2) We found Chilean high-level Champion Gonzalo Muñoz’s words during Transport Day organised by Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT) inspiring: “A systemic change is needed to connect transport with cities, finance and energy. We have to engage with people to make the change, people need to be at the center.”


High Level Climate Action Champion, Gonzalo Muñoz, opening Transport Day at COP25. Ph: REN21.

3) Leader of Glasgow City Council, Susan Aitken, made an impressive presentation at WWF Pavilion’s panel the first week on how cities are making progress toward a 1.5-degree scenario: “National governments cannot do this alone. They need to empower us, cities, to allow us to deliver and implement the change. Cities are not there just taking instructions, but also leading and shaping the agenda.” The city was elected as host for COP26.

4) Maruxa Cardama, Secretary General from SLoCaT spelled out the importance of renewables for the future during the Marrakech Partnership event that REN21 co-organised with IRENA on Thursday: “The next 30 years we’ll be building more urban infrastructure than in the previous centuries, meaning a huge impact on transport that we can’t ignore. Renewables are a logical component of any clean efficient transportation system.”

5) On Friday, 6 December we had a full house attend our official COP25 side event: Advancing Sustainable Cities: Renewables as the key to the climate, energy and mobility transition. Panelists from IPCC, CAN-Arab World, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung-MENA and UEMI spoke. Not only did our panelist made really interesting interventions, but the audience did too. Head of the Jordanian delegation, Mr. Ahmad Al Qatameh, was one of them: “We need steady government policies and proper regulations, or nothing will work.” As Jordan imports almost all of its energy energy efficiency is key.


Panellists from the event. From left to right: Rana Adib (REN21), Oliver Lah (Urban Electric Mobility Initiative), Lea Ranalder (REN21), Haneen Shaheen (CAN – Arab World), Franziska Wehinger (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung-MENA) and Debra Roberts (IPCC). Source: REN21.


6) Over the weekend we heard the powerful speech Bertrand Piccard from SOLAR IMPULSE at the Energy Action Day event; “People are afraid and prefer to remain in what they know. We have a responsibility to show what is possible; that change can bring a better world. We need to help people see beyond the obvious.” The event spread in different sessions, all focused in the role of energy, counted with the participation from different sectors such as Juliet Davenport from Good Energy discussing the infrastructure needed for a decarbonisation in the heating and cooling sector in the UK and Karol Gobcznski outlined the role or regulatory policy framework should enable the energy transition from IKEA. A moment of silence was also held for our dearly departed colleague Steve Sawyer whose stubborn courage and his ability to inspire were sorely missed at the climate talks.

7) The second week at COP had a Gender Day (10 Dec). Chile’s Environmental Minister and COP25 President Carolina Schmidt opened Gender Day to celebrate gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in climate action: “It is a moral imperative to incorporate gender equality to climate change policies. It is an accelerator to achieve SDGs.”


Chile’s Environmental Minister and COP25 President, Carolina Schmidt, opening Gender Day at COP25 last week. Source: REN21.


8) Rana Adib participated as a speaker 11 December an evening event on CO2 mitigation using Concentrated solar power (CSP) technology co-organised by GIZ. Abderrahim Jamrani from Masen noted : “In Morocco, we believe that renewable energy is our future. We have developed CSP even though it is more expensive than PV and wind, as the peak in demand occurs after sunset. We are developing both as they are complementary during day and night.”

9) REN21’s Outreach & Communication Manager, Laura Williamson, opened the side event, Stronger Together: Showcasing Success of Renewable Energy Technologies Working Together, where she echoed previous messages about the role of cities. “We see a shift from national governments to organisations, industries and increasingly to cities and regional governments in taking on the energy transformation.”


Laura Williamson presenting the global status of renewables at COP25. Source: REN21.


10) On Thursday 12 December, we organised an event with DG DEVCO, BMU, and UNDESA for a discussion at the SDG Pavilion titled Renewables in Cities: Key to the energy transition, climate mitigation and adaptation. Stefano Signore of DG DEVCO nicely summed up the need for vertical integration across levels of government: “Promoting sustainable urban development and integrating renewables is one of the areas of cooperation between government levels that can achieve the SDGs.”

Some people are already voicing the disappointments and shortcomings on the outcome of this year’s COP. We agree that some countries with significant carbon emissions seem to be uncooperative and send mixed messages. Despite these frustrations, we like to focus on available solutions. With the rapid of renewable energy and energy efficiency we can address the climate emergency head on. Its #TimeForAction!