It’s official. The 2020 COP-26 climate conference scheduled for November this year has been postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The United Nations climate body and UK government made the decision public following a virtual UN ‘bureau’ meeting late on Wednesday 1 April, attended by UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa and representatives from the main UN regional blocs.
Originally scheduled to run from November 9-18 in Glasgow, Scotland, a new date for the conference is yet to be determined however it is likely to be sometime in mid-2021. Other UN climate meetings such as the COP-intersessional meetings which were scheduled to commence in June 2020 at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) headquarters in Bonn, Germany have been pushed to October this year.
The fate of COP-26 had been the subject of much speculation in recent weeks as the UK, which is also set to host the G7 in 2021, tightened social distancing norms following the intensification of the pandemic. This week the Scottish government announced that the SEC Arena – where COP26 is due to take place – will be turned into a field hospital to cope with COVID-19 cases.
“Public health, safety and wellbeing are paramount, and we must do whatever we can to halt the spread of COVID-19,” said Christiana Figueres, former UN climate chief, in response to the decision, adding that while meetings might be postponed, there can be no delay in climate action in 2020.
News of COP26’s postponement comes as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise to dangerous levels, with impacts from climate-related extreme weather events hitting across the globe. While Figueres’s sentiments have been echoed by others close to the climate negotiations, there have also been calls for the additional time to be used to increase climate action and ambition. “Postponing COP26 [following the parallel decision of the CBD] is the right thing to do – public health and safety must come first now. The UK Presidency and all Governments should use this time to design resilient recovery and transition plans that consider climate, biodiversity, development and social justice in an integrated way. This crisis has shown that international cooperation and solidarity are essential to protect global well-being and peace. COP26 next year should become a centerpiece of revitalized global cooperation,” said Laurence Tubiana, Paris Agreement architect and CEO, European Climate Foundation.
This year’s talks are crucial to finalise the Paris Agreement ‘Rule Book’ in order to make the agreement operational. Additionally, governments are also supposed to deliver new climate plans with increased ambitions this year. While this requirement still stands, with the world looking to bounce back from a global pandemic and an economic recession, focus will be on the extent to which stimulus packages a healthier, cleaner and more resilient planet. “The momentum for climate action has accelerated considerably, and we will have to ensure that this momentum is sustained even as CoP26 is moved to [mid-]2021. However, this postponement was the right decision – it highlights the centrality of the individual citizens of the world, and of their safety, security, and well-being,” said Ajay Mathur, director general of TERI, reacting to the announcement.