Governments should submit updated Paris Agreement plans 'at least 9-12 months' in advance of crucial climate summit, UN warns
The UN has urged countries around the world to deliver their updated national climate action plans as soon as possible, reminding governments that their Paris Agreement plans should be submitted "at least 9-12 months" before the crucial COP26 summit kicks off in Glasgow in November next year.
Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, nations had been expected to communicate more ambitious emissions reduction and climate adaptation plans - known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the UN jargon - by the end of 2020.
But a new missive from the UNFCCC climate secretariat, issued late last week, effectively confirms that the year-long delay to the Summit caused by the coronavirus pandemic means governments will be given a little more time to submit their plans.
A letter issued last week calls on governments to submit NDCs "at least 9-12 months in advance" of COP26, which would place the deadline for submissions closer to February 2021.
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said the UN planned to publish an "initial version of the synthesis report" collating climate action commitments from all parties to the Paris Agreement by the end of February next year, based on those NDCs submitted by the end of December 2020.
The final NDC synthesis report, she added, would then be made available by the time COP26 gets underway in early November next year, incorporating all the NDCs that are updated ahead of the Summit.
"I strongly encourage Parties to submit their updated or new NDCs in accordance with this timeline," Espinosa wrote. "In view of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the NDC preparation process, the secretariat will update the initial NDC synthesis report closer to COP26 to ensure that it contains the latest available information."
As it stands, national commitments made under the Paris Agreement re not nearly sufficient to limit average global warming to 1.5C or 'well below' 2C - the headline goal of the climate treaty - and governments are therefore expected to ratchet up their efforts every five years.
With the Paris Agreement having been brokered at the COP21 Summit in 2015, the first milestone date for countries to strengthen their NDCs and enhance their emission reduction goals therefore falls this year. The submission of more ambitious NDCs - including growing numbers of national net zero emission targets - was seen as one of the top priorities for the Glasgow Summit, alongside plans to finalise the technical rulebook for the Paris Agreement ahead of its entry into full legal force.
A number of countries have already submitted updated NDCs, with some securing plaudits for strengthening their emissions targets and others facing criticism for barely changing their previous targets.
However, the year-long delay to the Glasgow Summit coupled with the disruption caused by the coronavirus crisis has fuelled fears that many countries will fail to submit ambitious new NDCs ahead of the original 2020 deadline.
There have even been fears that COP26 co-host the UK - which is seeking to style itself as a global climate leader ahead of the summit and has a key role in rallying other nations to ramp up their climate efforts - could miss the 2020 deadline. Last month Energy and Clean Growth Minister Kwasi Kwarteng promised the UK would "come forward with our own more ambitious NDC as soon as possible". But some observers have noted that a number of factors, including the scheduled publication of new reports on the UK's planned net zero transition from the Treasury and Committee on Climate Change, means the government may struggle to meet the end of year deadline for formally submitting its NDC.
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