Reactions trail postponement of COP 26 over COVID-19 concerns

The COP26 UN climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow in November has been postponed due to COVID-19.

This decision has been taken by the COP Bureau of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), with the UK and its Italian partners.

Dates for a rescheduled conference in 2021, hosted in Glasgow by the UK in partnership with Italy, will be set out in due course following further discussion with parties.

In light of the ongoing, worldwide effects of COVID-19, holding an ambitious, inclusive COP26 in November 2020 is no longer possible.

Rescheduling will ensure all parties can focus on the issues to be discussed at this vital conference and allow more time for the necessary preparations to take place. We will continue to work with all involved to increase climate ambition, build resilience and lower emissions.

“The world is currently facing an unprecedented global challenge and countries are rightly focusing their efforts on saving lives and fighting COVID-19. That is why we have decided to reschedule COP26,”  Alok Sharma, the COP26 President-Designate and UK’s Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said.

“We will continue working tirelessly with our partners to deliver the ambition needed to tackle the climate crisis and I look forward to agreeing a new date for the conference,”  he added.

According to Patricia Espinosa, UNFCCC’s Executive Secretary, “COVID-19 is the most urgent threat facing humanity today, but we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term.

“Soon, economies will restart. This is a chance for nations to recover better, to include the most vulnerable in those plans, and a chance to shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, just, safe and more resilient.

On his own part, Sergio Costa, the Italian Minister for the Environment, Land and Sea Protection, promised continued  support and urged nations to significantly boost climate ambition in line with the Paris Agreement.”

“Whilst we have decided to postpone COP26, including the Pre-COP and ‘Youth for the Climate’ event, we remain fully committed to meeting the challenge of climate change.

“Tackling climate change requires strong, global and ambitious action. Participation from the younger generations is imperative, and we are determined to host the ‘Youth for the Climate’ event, together with the Pre-COP and outreach events. We will continue to work with our British partners to deliver a successful COP26, he added.”

Postponing action on climate change?

Responding to the news that the UN’s annual climate change conferences have been postponed, Mr Sonam P Wangdi from Bhutan, the Chair of the Least Developed Countries Group, said: “It is unfortunate that these meetings cannot take place as scheduled, but obviously the health and safety of our people is of highest priority, and postponing the meetings is critical to preventing the further spread of this virus.”

“The pandemic is understandably the key focus for governments at the moment, but the need for climate action hasn’t lessened. Climate change will continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of our people after the pandemic has ended. Deep and permanent reductions of global emissions are urgently needed. A postponed meeting should not mean postponed global action on climate change.”

The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) considers the COP26 postponement as a significant contribution by the UNFCCC and the international community of climate campaigners to the efforts to lower the scale of COVID-19 infections and save lives. The decision, according to them, pre-empts the dampening impacts of planning disruptions that have been caused by the global shutdown to deal with the outbreak.

The alliance of African non-state actors however warned that the postponement of COP26 must not be an excuse for those who have been hell-bent on slowing climate action to escape scrutiny, or for funders of climate action initiatives across the world to divert resources.

“As an annual event where we gauge the progress on the implementation of climate action commitments by various governments, the COPs are important convergences to remind, applaud and shame, as well as to share perspectives and ideas. The COPs are also a much needed avenue for climate actors to encourage each other that even when it looks gloom due to competing geopolitical interests, there is hope for humanity and the planet. This spirit must survive the current health crisis,” Mithika Mwenda, PACJA’s Executive Director added.

Tasneem Essop, Executive Director, Climate Action Network says its important to remember that this pandemic is taking place against the backdrop of an ecological crisis- one that threatens the lives of millions of people and will exacerbate the risks we already face.

“Just like a fast-spreading virus, climate change has no regard for borders. If one country is not safe, no country is safe. The postponement of the Bonn session to later this year and COP to next year does not mean a postponement of climate ambition. This does not let governments off the hook- we will continue to hold them accountable to deliver renewed climate ambition for the equitable and just transformation of societies. If there is anything that this Covid19 crisis has taught us, it is that now more than ever we need sustained international efforts to build a safe and resilient future,”  Essop added.

In a smiliar vein, Mohamed Adow, Director of think tank Power Shift Africa, welcomed the postponement of the Bonn meeting and subsequent adjustment to the COP26 date as a sensible step.

He however added that postponing them does not amount to postponing climate action.

“Country delegations should use this extra time to ensure the economic response to Covid-19 doesn’t entrench the climate crisis, but instead accelerates the transition to a zero carbon world.  Before the pandemic countries were failing to deliver quick enough emissions reductions and support for the vulnerable. This delay, combined with the economic recovery investment being devised, gives leaders the opportunity to revise their climate plans. Economies in the rich north must not be kickstarted with dirty investment that will lead to climate suffering in the global south,” he said.

“While the pandemic has forced international climate diplomacy to drastically slow down, climate action must remain high on the political agenda this year. The coronavirus outbreak is throwing into sharp relief how the current system is failing the most vulnerable and generating multiple crises, including climate breakdown. Social justice, community-led solutions, equity and workers’ rights must be at the centre of any government actions to tackle both these crises,” Anna Vickerstaff, Senior UK Campaigner at 350.org warned.

ActionAid’s global lead on climate change, Harjeet Singh, believes that the coronavirus outbreak will hit the poorest and most marginalised the hardest, those who are already facing food shortages and who are on the frontline of the climate crisis.

“But the pandemic also proves that if there is political will, dramatic actions can be taken, trillions of dollars can be mobilised and people will accept inconvenience and strong government interventions, if it means protecting millions of lives. It shows the level of ambition that must be applied to the climate emergency,” Singh said.

To Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, leader of WWF’s global climate and energy practice, climate action must remain a non-negotiable global priority.

“That means we must also focus on creating low-carbon job opportunities and increasing our societies’ economic and ecological resilience. This means countries must continue their work to step up ambition to tackle the climate crisis in a socially fair way, by decarbonizing economies and energy systems, increasing nature-based solutions and addressing unsustainable agriculture and deforestation, including through any economic recovery effort,”the former COP President added.

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