The UN climate talks due to be held in Glasgow, UK in November 2020 have been postponed as governments around the world struggle to halt the spread of coronavirus.
The most important climate negotiations since the Paris agreement in 2015 were scheduled to take place this winter to put countries back on track to avoid climate breakdown. They are now expected to be pushed back to 2021.
A statement from the UK government on Wednesday night confirmed that the meeting of over 26,000 attendees would be delayed until next year. It said new dates for the conference would be decided in due course.
The UK energy minister and president of the COP26 conference, Alok Sharma, is understood to have held crunch talks with the UN’s climate change bureau on Wednesday to confirm the timing of the talks as governments around the world struggle to stem the spread of the virus.
“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,” he 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.”
The COP26 meeting was scheduled to be held in Glasgow at the SEC arena, a venue which the Scottish government plans to turn into a field hospital to treat virus victims.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) agreed to delay the vital talks because of the widespread disruption caused by coronavirus, and will also delay a key preliminary meeting scheduled for Bonn, Germany which was also expected to be derailed by widespread lockdowns and travel restrictions.
UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, said: “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.
“In the meantime, we continue to support and to urge nations to significantly boost climate ambition in line with the Paris Agreement.”
Italian Minister for the Environment, Land and Sea Protection, Sergio Costa, said: “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.”
COP25 President, Minister Carolina Schmidt, said: “The decision of the Bureau on the postponement of COP26 is unfortunately a needed measure to protect all delegates and observers.
“Our determination is to make sure that the momentum for climate ambition will continue, particularly for the preparation and submissions of new NDCs this year.”
In a reaction, Tasneem Essop, Executive Director, Climate Action Network, said: “At this moment, all our efforts are focused on fighting the Covid19 pandemic. Governments must prioritise the health, safety and jobs of their citizens. Under these circumstances, we acknowledge the necessity to postpone the Bonn climate session and COP26 to 2021.
“Let us remember 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.”
Mohamed Adow, Director of think tank Power Shift Africa: “The postponement of the Bonn meeting and subsequent adjustment to the COP26 date is a sensible step. It doesn’t make sense to bring people from every country together in the middle of a pandemic. Although these postponed meetings are important, they are not the entirety of climate action.
“Postponing them does not mean 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.”
Anna Vickerstaff, Senior UK Campaigner, 350.org: ““While the pandemic has forced international climate diplomacy to drastically slow down, to the point of postponing a major moment for climate negotiations as COP26, climate action must remain high on the political agenda this year.
“The coronavirus outbreak and the unprecedented plunge in oil prices and stock market value of fossil fuel companies highlight the vulnerability of our current economic systems to external shocks.
“Governments are expected to update their national climate plans by 2020, but as they roll out measures to bolster the ailing economy, they have a choice now: locking us into more decades of dependence from fossil fuels or focusing on people’s health, jobs and the need for resilient and decentralised energy systems based on renewable sources.
“The coronavirus pandemic 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.”
Harjeet Singh, ActionAid’s global lead on climate change: “Climate disasters won’t stop for the Covid-19 crisis. But we can’t address the climate emergency if distracted governments adopt half-measures in order to stick to a schedule.
“Current climate plans put the world on track for a catastrophic 3 or 4 degrees of warming. In these uncertain times, a postponement of COP26 gives governments more time to increase their climate pledges.
“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.”
Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, leader of WWF’s global climate and energy practice: “Under the circumstances, the decision to postpone both the annual mid-year UN climate negotiations and COP26, is unavoidable. Our collective priority must be to put health and lives first which is why we must treat COVID-19 seriously.
“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. 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 Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) welcomed the delay as the best hope of rebuilding diplomatic momentum before the talks take place.
Stephanie Pfeifer, the group’s CEO, said investors would support the decision because it “improves the likelihood of a strong outcome and ensuring that the world is put on a path to tackle the climate crisis”.