Climate conference expected to highlight need for strong multilateral approach to green recovery plans as coronavirus crisis continues to escalate
Countries must update their climate targets this year and prioritise green stimulus plans regardless of the fallout from the coronavirus crisis, German environment minister Svenka Schulze said this morning at the launch of a major round of climate diplomacy talks.
The Petersberg Climate Dialogue, a two-day climate conference organised by Germany and this year co-hosted by the UK, kicked off this morning, with more than 30 environment ministers joining business leaders and NGOs to discuss green recovery programmes and climate priorities in the light of the recent postponement of the COP26 UN Climate Summit.
Delivering the virtual conference's opening remarks, Schulze said that she would like the need to enhance national climate action plans - known as nationally-determined contributions (NDCs) in the UN jargon - to be a "major signal" to come out of the meeting.
"The postponement of the UN World Climate Change Conference in Glasgow to 2021 is understandable because a global consensus of 200 states would not be able to be reached in a video conference," she explained. "However, I advocate for us to stick to the timetable set by the Paris Agreement which says the international community must update its climate targets this year. We have to take the next step forward for climate action and do this in Europe, and do everything possible to ensure other economies follow suit."
Under the Paris Agreement countries are still expected to update their NDCs and to publish a longer-term decarbonisation strategy by the end of this year. But so far only seven nations have done so and some have re-submitted existing plans without upgrading their emissions goals.
Schulze added that ministers at the conference should also address calls to systematically focus their coronavirus recovery and investment packages to tackle climate risks. "The fact that we, as climate ministers, despite coronavirus, are meeting for the Petersberg climate dialogue should also send another signal, this time for multilateralism," she said. "We live in a time of global crises and these crises can only be tackled successfully in a concerted international approach."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a representative of the UK government, and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres will speak publicly in a "high-level segment" of the conference tomorrow, which marks the second and final day of the conference.
Speaking as part of a virtual press conference this morning, Lord Nick Stern, the UK's COP26 presidency advisor and chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE, said global leaders must "face up" to the risk of a global depression and resist austerity measures that could further exacerbate the economic crash.
"This is a problem of confidence, it's a problem of consumption, it's a problem of investment and we are going to need a clear sense of direction," he said. "There is only one feasible way forward and that is to build a much greener, much more environmentally friendly and more equitable economy. That clear path chartered now by the leaders of the world can and will give us the confidence necessary to reboot both consumption and investment, and of course investments of the right kind."
Investments could be funnelled towards energy efficiency, electric road and rail programmes, redesigning cities, and protecting natural capital, he said.
In a sobering address, Stern said there are lessons to be learned from the policies enacted to rebuild the shattered global economy after the two World Wars, noting how a "positive internationalist approach" embraced after the Second World War prevented mass unemployment, while "decades of darkness" were triggered by the flawed policies introduced after the First World War.
"There can be no going back," Stern said. "We have to rule out austerity. And the most dangerous recovery of all would be a futile attempt at a 'brown' recovery. That doesn't make sense. We can see the way forward and we have to do in Europe and across the world."
Separately, UK Business Secretary and COP26 President Alok Sharma reiterated his calls for governments to prioritise climate action in their economic recovery plans. "We all know that climate risks are growing year by year," he said. "And the steps we take now to rebuild our economies can have a profound impact on our societies' future sustainability, resilience and, ultimately, wellbeing of humans, but of course, nature as well."
He specifically called for governments to step up efforts to accelerate the transitions that are already underway to deliver clean energy and transport infrastructure.
"Energy transition and accelerating the move to zero-emission road transport are two of the five key campaigns that the UK is going to be focusing on in the lead up to COP 26," he said. "And I believe that by actually uniting around specific issues, we hope to spur innovation, scale up solutions, and bring down the costs in both of these areas."
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