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Climate experts look ahead as coronavirus forces delay of COP26 summit

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 2 April 2020 14:23 GMT

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and David Attenborough attend a conference about the COP26 UN Climate Summit, in London, Britain February 4, 2020. Jeremy Selwyn/Pool via REUTERS

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U.N. agencies, governments and green groups respond to the decision to delay this year’s climate talks in Glasgow to 2021

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By Megan Rowling

BARCELONA, April 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Governments were urged on Thursday not to lose their focus on tackling global warming in the struggle to quell the coronavirus pandemic which forced the postponement of the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow.

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The United Nations climate summit, scheduled for November, will now be held in 2021 with new dates yet to be fixed. Another key U.N. summit, on protecting the world's shrinking biodiversity, has also been pushed to next year.

Many climate activists have said the recovery packages that will be rolled out in wealthy countries, aimed at warding off the worst effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, are an opportunity to reshape economies along cleaner, greener lines.

Here is a selection of comments from U.N. agencies, governments and green groups following the announcement of the COP26 delay:  

Alok Sharma, Britain's Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and COP26 president-designate

"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.

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."

Patricia Espinosa, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary

"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."

Sonam P Wangdi, secretary of Bhutan's National Environment Commission and chair of Least Developed Countries at the U.N. climate talks

"These are really difficult times for everyone. As the world responds to one crisis, we cannot let another crisis worsen. And as governments respond and make plans for recovery, there is a prime opportunity for ambitious climate change action to guide those recovery processes in order to see a zero-carbon, sustainable and just transition to a safer future for all."

Sven Harmeling, global policy lead on climate change and resilience, CARE International

"Minimising the coronavirus' adverse impacts in the next few weeks, in particular on marginalised and poor women and girls, will rightly absorb governments full attention. 

But ... urgent action is required to avoid a complete climate breakdown, in particular by richer countries. Postponement of the COP26 conference should not mean postponement of strong action on climate justice."

Tasneem Essop, executive director, Climate Action Network

"This (postponement) 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 COVID-19 crisis has taught us, it is that now, more than ever, we need sustained international efforts to build a safe and resilient future."

Anna Vickerstaff, senior UK campaigner at 350.org

"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."

Rachel Rose Jackson, director of climate research and policy at Corporate Accountability

"Big polluters are already leveraging this deadly pandemic to advance their agenda - from billion-dollar bailouts to deregulation. One of the greatest risks of this decision (to push back COP26) is that big polluters will also use this delay to further undermine climate policy at the national level and further erode ambition around the globe.

In the United States and Canada, the fossil fuel industry and its friends in power have already been busy at work rolling back environmental regulations and locking in pipelines while the rest of the world races to save lives." 

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists

"The response to the COVID-19 pandemic is showing that the nations of the world can come together to tackle global challenges, and that the policy landscape can shift quickly when there is sufficient political will.

This should give us hope as we move forward in the fight to tackle the global crisis of climate change."

John Sauven, executive director, Greenpeace UK

"The health of the planet and individual health need to be looked at as a whole. The pandemic has clearly shown that we are all affected and that we can only solve these challenges if we act together as a global community.

Without governments, scientists and civil society working together, neither COVID-19 nor the climate and nature crisis will be solved."

Michael Grubb, professor of international energy and climate change policy, University College London 

"The (coronavirus) crisis reminds us of the need to heed scientific warnings and projections, and of the - perhaps unexpected - vulnerability of even the strongest societies. It also shows the scale and speed of response that is possible when societies really face up to such risks.

Deferring COP26 will offer an opportunity for the world to take stock of the lessons, and also 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."

Related stories:

Governments urged not to shirk climate action after summit delay

Climate summit in Glasgow postponed to 2021 because of coronavirus pandemic

EU leaders agree to consider climate in coronavirus recovery plan

Climate stress and coronavirus gang up on world's vulnerable

(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)