3 April 2020
The delay to this year’s UN climate talks (COP26) due to COVID-19 makes sense. It enables the world to take stock before tackling the threats to the planetary systems on which we all ultimately depend.
The COVID-19 crisis shows the scale and speed of a response that is possible when countries manage extreme natural and social risks that science warns us can affect even the strongest of societies.
The climate and health emergencies that humanity is facing mean that we must begin to re-build the economy in a way that supports people and creates new jobs in sectors that are vital for our future.
Given the worldwide health dangers of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it is understandable the announcement that UN climate negotiations in Glasgow have been delayed. Concentrating on the crisis has to take precedence, and every effort must go to supporting people in the frontline of handling the virus, to save lives and shield the vulnerable who will suffer the most in this crisis.
"This crisis also restates the need to observe scientific warnings, modelling and projections, and of the - perhaps unexpected - vulnerability of even the strongest of societies. It also shows the scale and speed of response that is possible when societies really face up to such risks," says BCSD Australia CEO, Andrew Petersen.
"There is a historical precedent for two sets of climate talks in one year, with two rounds of climate negotiations taking place in 2001 in Bonn and in Marrakech.
"This will give more time for a better-considered UK Presidency. A delay gives the UK hosts and other governments the ability to ensure that sufficient diplomatic momentum is generated heading into COP26. Moving the summit back improves the likelihood of a strong outcome and ensuring that the world is put on a path to tackle the climate crisis,” said Mr Petersen.
Rescheduling the negotiations does not mean deferring climate action. Countries will still need to submit their enhanced climate plans by the end of the year to be in line with the scientific imperative of limiting heating increases to 1.5°C. As governments are right now showing they are ready to cooperate, they should avoid repeating the same mistakes that were made after the 2008 global financial crisis when stimulus packages caused emissions to rebound.
And the pandemic will also be the opportunity to restructure the priorities for COP26, as alongside the UN climate process countries will be devising stimulus packages for economies hard-hit by the crisis. Clearly, governments around the world have an opportunity to realign support for a range of sectors, from energy to industry, transport and infrastructure, that stimulates the transition to a low-carbon economy. It should be seen as an opportunity to rebuild economies hit by coronavirus in ways that are healthier, more resilient to future shocks and fairer to a wider range of people.
The current pandemic has shown that concerted international action, vital for protecting people’s lives and livelihoods, is possible in the face of a global threat. Although the current interruption of much of economic life will lead to a temporary slowdown in emissions, experience suggests levels will bounce back without action to address them.
In short, deferring COP26 will offer an opportunity for the world to take stock, and to integrate better with the global Biodiversity summit, to start a new chapter in tackling the threats to the planetary systems on which we all ultimately depend.
“The climate and health emergencies mean that we must begin to re-build the economy in a way that supports people and creates new jobs in sectors that are vital for our future.”