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.
But at the same time there is a recognition that with many governments already promising to deliver green recovery packages, a full year delay provides more time to encourage countries to come forward with ambitious net zero emissions strategies. The EU is today expected to unveil its economic recovery plans with the bloc's Green Deal strategy set to feature heavily. Meanwhile, China is similarly poised to unveil sweeping stimulus plans that will provide crucial insight into the government's commitment to climate action in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
Diplomats remain hopeful that strong new decarbonisation pledges and investment plans from major economies will ramp up pressure on other governments to come forward with more credible national climate action plans.
The proposed new dates would also ensure governments around the world have clarity over the direction of US climate policy following this autumn's election, with US voters offered a straight choice between President Trump's plan to quit the Paris Agreement and Joe Biden's pledge to re-enter the Treaty and deliver a new net zero emissions strategy for the world's biggest economy.
Writing on Twitter, Nick Molho of the Aldersgate Group, welcomed the "sensible" proposal for a full year delay to the Summit.
"Given the health context, new proposed COP26 dates for Nov 2021 are sensible," he said. "To maximise chances of success, UK Gov must use the time to plan an effective diplomatic engagement campaign + lead by example by having a climate friendly recovery plan & clear net zero strategy."
He added that the government must now use the extra year of preparation time to undertake "targeted diplomatic engagement on thorny negotiation issues (e.g. financial support to vulnerable states) and [deliver] an ambitious low carbon recovery plan for UK economy".
The Cabinet Office was considering a request for comment at the time of going to press.
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