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A Mood Of Urgency At UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid

A march outside the climate conference in Madrid, Spain, on Dec. 6, 2019.
Malopez 21,
A march outside the climate conference in Madrid, Spain, on Dec. 6, 2019.

This year’s United Nations conference on climate change is underway in Madrid, Spain, with about 25,000 people from 200 countries attending.

The mood is one of urgency, according to participants.

On Sunday, Dec. 1, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that the summit marks the "point of no return" in the fight against climate change.

“There is certainly a sense of concern and worry,” said Marcia Macedo, associate scientist at Woods Hole Research Center and a conference attendee.  

“If you look at the report card and where we are on the national targets… we have countries that aren't participating or are threatening to pull out. And the countries that have committed by and large are not doing quite enough to get us where we need to be.”

As a Brazilian-American scientist, Macedo said she has been disappointed with the official representation from both countries.

“I think Nancy Pelosi was here and a few other U.S. officials, but not a strong presence. Certainly not the kind of leadership that we would hope to see from the U.S. at this point,” she said. “And Brazil is moving in the same direction.”

As a counterpoint to the Brazilian government’s apparent lack of interest in addressing climate change, there has been strong representation from private citizens and scientists from Brazil, she said.

At the conference, Macedo’s organization, Woods Hole Research Center, brought attention to two natural ecosystems that play a big role in climate change: Arctic permafrost and the Amazon rainforest.

“The Amazon stores 10 years of global greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “And it is a really important regulator of regional climate by circulating water in the region and around the world. That is a function that that we're trying to shine a light on.”

Macedo said that as the conference wraps up, the sense of urgency is palpable.

“We're really hopeful that that can be converted into some real action and some real commitments,” she said.

Elsa Partan is a producer for Living Lab Radio. She first came to the station in 2002 as an intern and fell in love with radio. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. From 2006 to 2009, she covered the state of Wyoming for the NPR member station Wyoming Public Media in Laramie. She was a newspaper reporter at The Mashpee Enterprise from 2010 to 2013. She lives in Falmouth with her husband and two daughters.