The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will now take place from November 1 to 12, 2021 in Glasgow, the United Kingdom. The Bureau of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, with the UK and its Italian partners, agreed on Thursday, May 28, 2020 new dates for the COP26 UN climate conference. In an interview with EnviroNews’ Michael Simire, Sean Melbourne, Head of Climate Change and Energy (West Africa), British High Commission, emphasises that the postponement of COP26 does not mean a postponement of ambitious climate action to reduce emissions
How, and why has the UK chosen these dates? Will COP26 still be held in partnership with Italy?
After the decision to postpone COP26 was taken by the UNFCCC COP Bureau, the UK as incoming Presidency was invited to consult with Parties and other stakeholders and present to the Bureau a proposal for new dates for COP26 for its consideration.
We reached out extensively to Bureau members, Group Chairs, Parties (including the Federal Government of Nigeria), CSOs and our operational delivery partners to understand the views of the different constituencies. Our priorities when considering a new date were: the health of participants; representations from Parties and Non-Party stakeholders; allowing time for preparatory work to deliver on negotiation mandates, and the ambitious and inclusive event we are committed to. Everyone we consulted agreed with these priorities.
The proposed dates were then agreed by the COP Bureau, with the UK and its Italian partners. Holding the conference from November 1 to 12, 2021 offered the best chance of delivering an inclusive and ambitious COP that would not compromise delegates’ health.
Series of events have been held virtually since the pandemic began. The British High Commission in Nigeria has collaborated with the Federal Ministry of Environment twice to host webinars – on Earth Day and on the International Day of Biological Diversity. Has the UK considered organising COP26 virtually?
We have hosted several webinars jointly with the Environment Ministry and we have continued to engage with partners virtually. In April, the COP26 Regional Ambassador for sub-Saharan Africa, Paul Arkwright, held a virtual meeting with Sharon Ikeazor, the Honourable Minister of State for Environment, and we are planning series of other virtual high-level meetings. But there are practical difficulties in delivering an event with over 30,000 delegates through virtual channels. Some nations also made clear they do not want a “virtual COP” and their views must be respected.
COP27 (the African COP) was supposed to hold in 2021. Does this new postponement not affect it?
Plans for COP27 are being handled as is customary by the UNFCCC.
How will COP26 guide a green recovery particularly in Nigeria where our priorities will be on jobs and lifting people out of poverty?
The UK recognises the economic challenges faced by Nigeria and the need for strong international support for a swift recovery from the COVID crisis. As the UK Prime Minister stated at the Financing for Development Dialogue on May 28, the UK is committed to working with our international partners to build back better from COVID-19, and to deliver a fairer, greener and more resilient economy. Using our leadership of COP26, we will work to anchor enhanced and credible action at the heart of the global recovery, while protecting those most vulnerable. A science-led, clean and resilient recovery will create employment in the industries of the future while ensuring we address the linked challenges of public health, climate change, and biodiversity.
Year 2020 was supposed to be the year of climate action, a lot has changed globally especially for developing countries where resources that would have been used to fight climate change are now diverted to fighting the pandemic and other important issues. What would you say about this?
Coronavirus has provided a stark reminder of what happens when humanity’s relationship with nature breaks down. As we recover, we have the opportunity to protect and restore nature, reducing our exposure to deadly viruses and climate impacts.
As the COP26 Presidency, we will continue to call on countries to submit ambitious NDCs and Long-Term Strategies in line with the Paris Agreement. 2020 remains a critical year for action and postponement of COP26 does not mean a postponement of ambitious climate action to reduce emissions, increase resilience and strengthen our collaboration and support. We recognise that the current focus is, quite rightly, on responding to COVID-19 which is why the conference has been postponed.
We are reviewing our plans for the Year of Climate Action as we are sensitive to the pressures facing businesses, communities and other organisations at this time, and the need to be mindful of these when shaping our plans.
Tackling climate change is a key priority for the UK. Our commitment to engage with Governments, individuals, communities and businesses to drive climate action remains.
The Friends of COP were unveiled recently and Nigeria’s Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is one of them. How would you react to this development, and how would you describe the role of members?
Firstly, I wish to warmly congratulate Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who is one of the Friends of COP in her capacity as Board Chair of GAVI and African Risk Capacity. The Friends of COP are experts in their fields. They will advise the COP26 Presidency and inspire actions from their sectors ahead of COP26.
We will also engage with many parties in the build up to the conference, in particular the youth, to ensure a wide range of voices will be heard.
The UK says she is taking the lead in climate action but is yet to set an NDC. When do we expect that?
The UK is committed to coming forward with an increased Nationally Determined Contribution well ahead of COP26. We continue to lead on addressing the global challenge of climate change through ambitious domestic action: we were e.g. the first major economy to set a net zero target in law, and our international engagement, including our hosting of COP26, and our international climate finance commitments, are testament to this.
The UK’s NDC will be based on robust analysis undertaken for domestic climate change mitigation policy. It will be in line with the requirements of the Climate Change Act, which is informed by advice from the independent Committee on Climate Change.