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UN approves UK and Italian request for high profile Summit to be postponed by a full year, as co-hosts announce new ‘Friends of COP’ advisory board
The UN COP26 Climate Summit has been officially rescheduled for November next year, after the UN approved plans from the UK and Italian co-hosts for the high profile conference to be delayed by a full year in response to the on-going coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this week, the UK government, which had been due to host the Summit in Glasgow this autumn, submitted a request to the UNFCCC climate secretariat for the meeting to be shifted to between the 1st and 12th of November 2021. A shorter delay had been considered, but Ministers concluded the risk of coronavirus outbreaks running into next year in parts of the world justified a longer postponement.
The UNFCCC rubber stamped the decision last night, firing the starting pistol on a 17 month countdown to the crucial Summit where the international community will strive to finalise the rulebook for the Paris Agreement and come forward with new decarbonisation and funding pledges designed to avert potentially catastrophic levels of climate change this century.
COP26 President and UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma welcomed the confirmation of the dates and confirmed the UK was already working on a new “roadmap” designed to accelerate international climate action in the run up to the Summit.
“While we rightly focus on fighting the immediate crisis of the Coronavirus, we must not lose sight of the huge challenges of climate change,” he said in a statement. “With the new dates for COP26 now agreed we are working with our international partners on an ambitious roadmap for global climate action between now and November 2021.”
He also reiterated the government’s plans to make climate action a key plank in its recovery packages. “The steps we take to rebuild our economies will have a profound impact on our societies’ future sustainability, resilience and wellbeing and COP26 can be a moment where the world unites behind a clean resilient recovery,” he said.
Businesses and campaigners broadly welcomed the full year postponement to the Summit, with observers noting how the rescheduled dates mean governments will have clarity over the result of this autumn’s US election and more time to engage world leaders with the need to strengthen their climate strategies.
The UK and Italy are set to host next year’s G7 and G20 Summits ahead of the new COP26 dates, while China is also preparing to reschedule the UN’s Biodiversity COP for next year, providing a series of high profile diplomatic events where climate action will be at the top of the agenda.
Sergio Costa, Italian Minister for the Environment, Land and Sea Protection, said that “between now and November 2021 we will take advantage of every international opportunity to increase ambition and mobilization, also harnessing the G20 under the Italian Presidency and the G7 under the British Presidency”.
The co-hosts also yesterday announced that they have expanded the team of senior figures working on the Summit with the appointment of a new “Friends of COP” advisory board. The group brings together over 25 experts from multiple global sectors to advise the COP26 Presidency, including Selwin Hart, Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on Climate Action, Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, and Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, among others.
“Everyone will need to raise their ambitions to tackle climate change and the expertise of the Friends of COP will be important in helping boost climate action across the globe,” said Sharma.
Green groups broadly welcomed the new dates, but also warned governments that urgent action was required now to both drive a green economic recovery and lay the diplomatic foundations for a successful Summit.
The preliminary talks for the conference have faced significant disruption as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and concerns remain that major technical issues relating to carbon market rules, forest protection, and climate financing are all a long way from being resolved. Moreover, campaigners are fearful that a number of governments – with the US and Brazil chief amongst them – are using the cover provided by the coronavirus crisis to drive through new high carbon policies and projects.
“The climate summit can be delayed, but dealing with the climate emergency cannot,” said Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven. “The Covid pandemic has shown just how badly we need international cooperation and political leadership, and the same holds true for tackling the climate crisis.
“The government now has a short window of opportunity to start delivering on the Paris climate agreement. But what is required is action not words, starting at home by delivering a climate-proof economy that supports millions of jobs. Next year’s climate summit will only be a success if major economies use this opportunity to build a green recovery.”
Neil Morisetti, former Foreign Office Special Representative for Climate Change and current Director of Strategy at UCL Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy Department, similarly urged the government to immediately step up its climate diplomacy efforts. “The UK government must use the additional time created by the delay to COP26 to work tirelessly with its international partners in the coming months,” he said. “We cannot postpone climate diplomacy, without which the odds on a successful summit and the resultant elevation of Britain’s global reputation will swiftly recede.”
Meanwhile, Helen Clarkson, CEO at The Climate Group think tank, stressed that governments around the world still have an obligation under the Paris Agreement to submit updated national climate action plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions in the UN jargon, this year.
“The announcement of the new dates for COP26 is very important for the international community, as it focuses minds and provides a clear date for negotiators,” she said. “However, it is important to remember that the NDC submission timelines have not changed, and countries are still expected to submit updated targets this year. The devastating impact of COVID-19 creates extra challenges, but our networks of businesses and state governments will do all they can to support national governments meet this deadline – climate action must not be delayed.”
Patricia Espinosa, UN climate change executive secretary, said governments now had an opportunity to align their climate efforts with their plans to rescue economies left stricken by the coronavirus crisis.
“Our efforts to address climate change and COVID-19 are not mutually exclusive,” she said. “If done right, the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis can steer us to a more inclusive and sustainable climate path. We honour those who we have lost by working with renewed commitment and continuing to demonstrate leadership and determination in addressing climate change, and building a safe, clean, just and resilient world.”