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‘Crucial’ UN Climate Summit in Scotland poised for full year delay

By James S Murray

UN widely expected to approve UK government request for crucial Summit to be rescheduled for November 2021

The UK government has written to the UN’s climate change secretariat to request a full year delay to the postponed COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, warning that the spread of the coronavirus pandemic around the world could make an earlier date unviable.

The UNFCCC is set to consider the request in the coming days and is widely expected to rubberstamp the proposed news dates, which would see the rescheduled global summit run from November 1st to 12th, 2021.

There had been speculation the British and Italian co-hosts for the Summit could look to reschedule the high profile meeting for Spring next year. But the progress of the coronavirus pandemic around the world, coupled with concerns over a second winter outbreak in countries already hit by the virus, has led officials to conclude a full year delay would reduce the risk of a second postponement.

“Given the uneven spread of COVID 19, this date would present the lowest risk of further postponement, andthe best chance of delivering an inclusive and ambitious COP,” the letter states.

The original delay, which was confirmed at the start of April, was prompted by fears it would be impossible for all delegations to attend if some countries continued to have lockdown measures in place this autumn. These concerns were further amplified by significant logistical challenges, including the fact the planned conference venue in Glasgow has been converted into a temporary field hospital.

The UK government and other stakeholders at the talks now fear hosting the Summit in early 2021 could result in it facing similar disruption, which could threaten both the health of delegates and the ability to run a fully inclusive Summit with all countries represented.

Proposals for a virtualised Summit have been considered, but while country delegations have continued to hold talks online many observers fear the talks would struggle to deliver the landmark agreement that governments are seeking without a predominantly physical meeting.

Moreover, the diplomatic groundwork and preliminary meetings for the Summit, which are crucial for ensuring a final agreement can be reached, have been disrupted by the pandemic. As such officials now believe it would be beneficial to have more time available to reschedule meetings next year and step up efforts to rebuild political momentum ahead of the talks.

The Guardian also reported this morning that the UN is keen to see the Biodiversity COP in China, which has also been postponed from its original autumn 2020 date, precede COP26. The Chinese government is currently understood to be exploring new dates for the Summit in the first half of 2021.

The letter to the UNFCCC sets out a new timetable for the run up to COP26, highlighting how upcoming international meetings including G7 and G20 summits, the UN General Assembly this autumn, and a major Climate Adaptation Summit early next year can all be used to drive progress ahead of the Glasgow Summit.

It also stresses that pressure will continue to be applied to governments to ensure they deliver promised upgrades to national climate action plans and funding commitments made under the Paris Agreement.

“Postponement of COP26 does not mean postponement of climate action,” the letter states. “We must scale up action to respond to the climate emergency. It is vital that all Parties increase ambition by submitting enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and long-term strategies that chart a path to net zero; that support is enhanced and the $100bn climate finance goal is met; and through scaling up action and support for adaptation.”

Observers remain concerned that a long delay could minimise the ability of the COP26 Summit to shape economic recovery plans and ensure governments continue to prioritise climate action as they seek to rebuild their economies.