New dates announced for UN climate change summit
Alok Gupta

The United Nations has announced new dates for the annual global climate change summit, confirming the event to be held next year as the coronavirus pandemic poses a health risk to delegates and travel restrictions could affect their participation.

The talks, also known as the Conference of Parties (COP26), will be held November 1-12 in the Scottish city of Glasgow, said the Bureau of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on Thursday.

"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," said Alok Sharma, COP26 president and UK's Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. 

The negotiations at COP26 are crucial as governments have to submit a plan, specifying their targets for curtailing greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming. The goal, a part of the Paris Climate Agreement signed in 2016, aims at achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

Lockdowns and restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus sent carbon emissions plummeting by 17 percent, improving air quality in many countries. But governments have announced stimulus packages worth billions of dollars to restart their economies, raising fears of a massive new spike in emission levels.

"While we rightly focus on fighting the immediate crisis of the coronavirus, we must not lose sight of the huge challenges of climate change," Sharma said.

"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." 

But climate change experts fear that stimulus packages announced for dealing with COVID-19 could be also used for boosting investment in green technologies to curb the rising emissions.

"Our efforts to address climate change and COVID-19 are not mutually exclusive. If done right, the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis can steer us to a more inclusive and sustainable climate path," said Patricia Espinosa, UN climate change executive secretary.

Sven Harmeling, CARE's Global Policy Lead on Climate Change and Resilience, warned that the postponement must not be an excuse to delay ambitious climate action.

"Undoubtedly, climate protection and support for those affected by the climate crisis, especially women and girls, cannot be delayed and must be addressed through economic stimulus programs in response to COVID-19."

Echoing similar views, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, global leader of WWF's climate and energy practice said, "Like the current pandemic, the scale and potential impacts of the climate crisis are global and need to be tackled collectively, which is why we support calls from many quarters for a green recovery."

(Cover: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, facing camera, attends the launch of the upcoming UK-hosted COP26 UN Climate Summit in London, February 4, 2020.)