Boris Johnson confirms new COP26 date, urges nations to focus on green recoveries

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reiterated a desire for the UK to deliver a "sustainable" recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a way that brings together key international nations to reach the ambitions of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Boris Johnson confirms new COP26 date, urges nations to focus on green recoveries

Glasgow was announced as the host city for COP26

Addressing the Financing for Development in the Era of Covid-19 and Beyond” virtual event, convened by the UN Secretary-General and the leaders of Canada and Jamaica, Johnson reiterated the Government’s stance on delivering a green economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at the event, Johnson confirmed that the postponed COP26 Climate conference would be moved to 1-12 November 2021, to allow more time to recover from the economic and travel impacts of the virus. The Prime Minister also called for renewed collaborative action on climate change.

“As we meet today, we face the greatest health crisis of our lifetimes,” Johnson said. “Every government is striving to protect our respective peoples, and that is exactly as it should be. Yet no single country holds the keys to victory against our invisible enemy.

“If we are to defeat COVID-19, achieve a global recovery and avoid a future pandemic, then we must work together across borders. Our national efforts will count for little unless they are fortified by international cooperation. But once we move beyond the emergency phase, we owe it to future generations to build back better and base our recovery on solid foundations, including a fairer, greener and more resilient global economy.”

Johnson claimed there was no need to “reinvent” the wheel for the delayed climate conference, but did call for nations to work together and towards “shared goals”, including the expansion of girls’ education, the Paris Agreement and the SDGs.

UK Ministers have taken part in numerous virtual international discussions during lockdown, with the likes of COP26 President Alok Sharma and UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab making public calls for nations to focus on low-carbon recoveries.

While there is an understanding of the need to delay COP26, it is viewed as the most important international climate summit since the creation of the Paris Agreement in 2015. As such, two key blocs of developing countries, the Alliance of Small Island States and Least Developed Countries, today issued calls for governments to not ignore the threats of climate change when restarting economies. “A delayed COP must not delay climate action,” said Sonam P. Wangdi, from the Kingdom of Bhutan, who Chairs the LDC Group.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres echoed those calls, calling for stimulus plans that support reducing pollution, protecting health and spurring low-carbon growth.

According to the UN, the world is “way off-track” to deliver the aims of the Paris Agreement. Preliminary data for 2019 suggests that greenhouse gas emissions increased globally in 2019 and carbon emissions from fossil fuels grew by more than 0.5% last year. COP26 is viewed as a vital summit to negotiate for more ambitious and accelerated decarbonisation efforts.

The coronavirus has caused a flux in emissions trajectories, with the International Energy Agency predicting an 8% decline in global emissions this year. However, the threat of “retaliatory emissions” – whereby economic productivity ramps up post-lockdown – is likely to cause an emissions spike over the coming months.

While the UK is yet to enshrine any sort of formal green recovery plan, the European Union (EU) has this week unveiled a €750bn fund to help the bloc recover from the coronavirus crisis, with 25% of all funding set aside for climate action.

In the UK, the National Infrastructure Commission has called for “clear resilience standards” that enables energy and water networks, transport, essential services and all infrastructure sectors to stress test and plan against hidden climate challenges on the horizon.

Additionally, the IPPR – backed by a commission of cross-party MPs – has added to the calls for the UK to prioritise and deliver a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, claiming that £30bn should be spent on a climate-focused recovery that also establishes a £5bn national Just Transition Fund.

Industry reaction

Neil Morisetti, former Foreign Office Special Representative for Climate Change and current Director of Strategy at UCL Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy Department, said: “Hosting this pivotally important UN summit provides an excellent opportunity for the UK to put its diplomatic mark on the world as we leave the European Union, showing that as a nation we are committed to upholding international institutions and taking our responsibilities to less developed nations seriously.

“The UK Government must use the additional time created by the delay to COP26 to work tirelessly with its international partners in the coming months. We cannot postpone climate diplomacy, without which the odds on a successful summit and the resultant elevation of Britain’s global reputation will swiftly recede.”

Camilla Toulmin, Senior Associate at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) said: “The world’s poorest nations are already grappling with major climate change impacts, from floods and drought to sea-level rise and more intense storms. I have seen these devastating impacts especially in Mali. So their case for urgent action on climate change is as strong as ever, despite the inevitable postponement of COP26.

“Under the Paris Agreement, governments are due to deliver certain critical things ‘by 2020’, not ‘by COP26’ – these include plans for accelerating their emission cuts, and $100bn per year in financial assistance for the poorest. Covid-19 may have forced the postponent of COP26, but it provides no reason for them to delay delivering these crucial elements of the Paris Agreement.”

Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland said: “It’s welcome that a new date has been agreed for these important UN climate talks. It was of course right to delay the meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the global climate and nature crises have not gone away.

 “With a date now confirmed for COP26, it’s vital that nations get on with the task of delivering the actions needed today to help avoid the worst impacts of climate change on people and nature. Demonstrable climate action is critical to ensure the success of the conference. That’s why as Glasgow prepares to welcome COP26, Scotland must continue to demonstrate climate leadership by delivering a green recovery from the current health crisis that builds back a greener, healthier and fairer society for us all.”

Luke Murphy, Head of the Environmental Justice Commission at IPPR, said:  “The Prime Minister is right that we must build back better after this crisis, but words must be met with action. Just yesterday, IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission set out the beginnings of a blueprint to secure a fairer, greener and more resilient economy. It will require the government to take a new approach to tackling the climate and nature crisis that goes ‘faster, further, and is fairer’.  

“As a first step, the government should commit to stepping up investment to secure a green recovery, supporting projects like insulating homes, planting trees and infrastructure to increase walking and cycling which will create jobs and help kick-start the economy after the Covid-19 crisis. 

“The Prime Minister rightly pointed out that our national efforts will count for little unless they are fortified by international cooperation across borders. As host of COP 26, the UK has the opportunity to drive climate ambition around the world, but the government needs to commit to a more ambitious target for reducing emissions by 2030 to secure higher commitments from other countries.” 

Helen Clarkson, CEO of the international non-profit The Climate Group, says: The announcement of the new dates for COP26 is very important for the international community, as it focuses minds and provides a clear date for negotiators.  

However, it is important to remember that the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) submission timelines have not changed, and countries are still expected to submit updated targets this year. The devastating impact of COVID-19 creates extra challenges, but our networks of businesses and state governments will do all they can to support national governments meet this deadline – climate action must not be delayed. 

Matt Mace

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