Postponing the 2020 climate summit due to the Covid-19 pandemic is a chance to move away from economic models that are encouraging zoonotic diseases

The Glasgow venue for the climate talks is being converted into a field hospital for coronavirus patients (Photo by Darren Tennant)

The Glasgow venue for the climate talks is being converted into a field hospital for coronavirus patients (Photo by Darren Tennant)

The annual United Nations climate summit originally scheduled to take place in Glasgow in November 2020 has been postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, delaying international efforts to contain the worst consequences of climate change through a round of new climate commitments.

The postponement gives governments — now totally preoccupied with battling Covid-19 — a chance to move away from business-as-usual in a post-pandemic world. Scientists have made it abundantly clear that the current economic model places far too much pressure on ecosystems, leading to higher frequency of zoonotic diseases such s Covid-19.

In light of the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak, holding COP26 in November 2020 is no longer possible, the UN climate change bureau said in a statement. The decision to postpone the conference, called COP26 because it’s the 26th annual meeting, was made at a virtual meeting.

The novel coronavirus disease, officially known as Covid-19, first emerged in Hubei province of China in December 2019 and has since spread rapidly across the world. The World Health Organisation declared it a pandemic on March 11. More than 53,000 people have died from the disease and over a million have been infected in 181 countries and regions, according to estimates on April 3.

Glasgow’s SEC Arena, where the summit was supposed to take place, has been converted into a temporary hospital for Covid-19 patients. “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,” Alok Sharma, host country Britain’s energy secretary and COP26 president-designate, said in a statement.

“It is unfortunate that these meetings cannot take place as scheduled,” said Sonam P. Wangdi of Bhutan, current chair of the Least Developed Countries Group. “The pandemic is understandably the key focus for governments at the moment, but the need for climate action hasn’t lessened.”

“Climate change will continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of our people after the pandemic has ended. Deep and permanent reductions of global emissions are urgently needed” Wangdi said. “A postponed meeting should not mean postponed global action on climate change.”

Climate action plans

Governments across the world were expected to update their national climate plans by 2020, five years after the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global temperature rise this century “well below 2 degrees Celsius” above pre-industrial levels. This update may now be jeopardised due to the Covid-19 epidemic.

“Governments will need urgently to pick up the pace as soon as a new summit date is decided and ensure their Nationally Determined Contribution plans for addressing the climate crisis are workable and in place in time,” said Andrew Norton, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development.

“Governments 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 decentralized energy systems based on renewable sources,” said Anna Vickerstaff, senior UK campaigner at 350.org, an international environmental organisation. “The coronavirus pandemic is throwing into sharp relief how the current system is failing the most vulnerable and generating multiple crises, including climate breakdown.”

“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,” said Harjeet Singh, ActionAid’s global lead on climate change. “Current climate plans put the world on track for a catastrophic three or four degrees of warming. In these uncertain times, a postponement of COP26 gives governments more time to increase their climate pledges.”

“As countries move forward with their revised national climate plans and set new commitments under the Paris Agreement, it is critically important that they take the necessary time to adjust to the current situation while also aiming to achieve the highest possible ambition,” said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of World Resources Institute. “Strong climate action is as urgent as ever.”

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