UN climate talks pushed back to November 2021 due to coronavirus

Observers caution against inaction due to the delay, with the UN warning that time is not on the planet’s side.

climate change kenya
Most climate observers endorsed the postponement, but warned against inaction [File: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters]

Critical United Nations climate negotiations, at which nations were expected to ramp up plans to combat global warming, have been pushed back a full year to November 2021.

The deferment has been done in light of the coronavirus pandemic and other concerns, British politician Alok Sharma, who is also the president of the talks, announced on Twitter on Thursday.

“Pleased to have agreed a new date for @COP26,” wrote Sharma, the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. “COP26 will now take place between 1 and 12 November 2021.”

While many climate observers consider the delay understandable given the circumstances, they warn that any postponement could risk further stalling time-sensitive actions needed by countries across the globe to slow global warming.

The UK proposed the new dates for the Glasgow conference – which had already been suspended – in a letter to the UN climate forum, citing health concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the need for more time to prepare for the 30,000-strong meeting.    

The revised schedule was vetted and approved on Thursday night.

However, possible drawbacks of the delay were laid out in a briefing note, obtained by the AFP news agency and drafted before the deliberations.

They included “the potential loss of momentum” going into the forum.

Concerns over delay

One of the time-sensitive issues is a 2020 deadline in the original schedule for the submission of revised, and possibly more ambitious, “nationally determined contributions” of each country’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Current national pledges, submitted in an annex to the 2015 Paris Agreement, would allow the planet’s surface to warm at least three degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, far above the upper limit of “well below” two degrees Celsius or 1.5 degrees Celsius if feasible, agreed to in the landmark treaty.

The UN’s climate science advisory panel, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has made it clear that time is not the planet’s side, especially if global warming is to be capped at the safer level of a 1.5-degree Celsius rise.

Carbon dioxide pouring into the atmosphere must be halved by 2030, and reach “net zero” by mid-century, if that more ambitious goal is to be met, the IPCC has said.

While the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic is projected to reduce global CO2 emissions this year by four to seven percent, it will have scant impact on global warming’s long-term trajectory, according to a recent study in the journal Nature Climate Change.

‘There can be no let-up’

Most observers endorsed the postponement, but cautioned against inaction.

“Shifting the date of COP26 is understandable, but there can be no let-up in tackling the climate crisis,” said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute in Washington, DC, in the United States.

Trillion-dollar recovery packages across Europe, North America and East Asia offer a “once-in-a-generation moment to rebuild societies to be more sustainable, equitable, resilient and healthy,” he said in a statement.

Global warming continues to gather pace, other experts pointed out.

“The coronavirus pandemic has not placed the climate crisis on hold, as the continuing spate of extreme weather across the world makes clear,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, DC.

Last week, South Asia’s first super cyclone in two decades ravaged eastern India, including Kolkata, while northern India was hit by searing heatwaves and locust swarms linked to climate change.

Scientists in the US, meanwhile, warned of a more severe-than-usual Atlantic hurricane season.

Other important environmental conferences have also been pushed back in response to the pandemic.

The critical COP15 UN conference on biodiversity, originally slated for October this year, will almost certainly “not happen before May,” a source involved in its organisation told the AFP.

A quadrennial meeting in Marseille of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which manages the Red List of endangered species, was postponed from June to January 2021.

Source: AFP