This year was supposed to be a key one for the planet, with important summits scheduled to advance climate, biodiversity, and ocean discussions. Nevertheless, the coronavirus outbreak has altered most of the plans.
The UN body that oversees international climate negotiations, the UNFCCC, has postponed the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) on climate change, initially scheduled for November in Glasgow, Scotland, until 2021. This summit is central to advancing the climate agenda after COP25 talks in Madrid failed.
The decision was taken jointly by the UNFCCC and the UK, who will now work over the next few weeks to set a new date. Rescheduling will allow further time for the “necessary preparations” and ensure all countries “can focus on the issues to be discussed at the conference”, the UK said on a press release.
“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,” UNFCCC head Patricia Espinosa said. “We continue to support and to urge nations to significantly boost climate ambition in line with the Paris Agreement.
For civil society, the decision is a sensible one amid the coronavirus outbreak. Nevertheless, climate action should remain high on the political agenda during 2020, with countries making sure that the economic response to the coronavirus doesn’t entrench the climate crisis.
“Under the current circumstances, the decision is unavoidable,” Manuel Pulgar Vidal, head of WWF’s global climate and energy practice, said. “But 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.”
COP26 was supposed to see signatories to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change present new commitments, known as NDCs, which are meant to raise their ambition, a critical step in curbing global emissions. At the same time, it had to resolve key points for the implementation of the agreement, that wasn’t solved in COP25 in Madrid.
Countries committed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. Nevertheless, the commitments presented so far haven’t been ambitious enough, leading the world to a temperature increase of up to 4 degrees Celcius.
The UNFCCC had already canceled or postponed all meetings in March and April, both at its headquarters in Bonn, Germany, and worldwide. African Climate Week, due to take place from 9 March in Uganda, was also called off, as well as London Climate Week, which was scheduled from June 27 to July 5.
“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,” said Tasneem Essop, Executive Director of Climate Action Network.
As well as the COP26, the 15th conference of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the most important biodiversity conference in a decade, was also postponed without a date. The summit was due to take place in October in China, with the aim of creating a new global framework for biodiversity.
A UN conference on protecting marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, scheduled for March 23 in New York, was also shelved and the WTO (World Trade Organization) has suspended all meetings in March and April. If the move is extended, it could affect the June annual meeting in Kazakhstan, which has the elimination of fishing subsidies high on the agenda.