Reports: COP26 to be delayed until November 2021

Reports have emerged that the UK Government has put forward the first two weeks of November 2021 as new proposed dates for the crucial COP26 climate conference, citing concerns over the state of international travel safety due to the coronavirus.

Glasgow was announced as the host city for COP26

Glasgow was announced as the host city for COP26

It was confirmed at the start of April that the COP26 climate conference would have to be postponed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has placed restrictions on public gatherings, events and transport as part of national lockdowns. While it is envisioned that the UK will be out of lockdown over the next few months, concerns persist about the appetite and safety of international travel.

Both the Guardian and the BBC are reporting that ministers will this week recommend the 1-12 November 2021 as the new date for the international climate conference. COP26 has been viewed as the most important international climate summit since the creation of the Paris Agreement in 2015. The UK had been confirmed as host and the summit was scheduled to take place in Glasgow from 9-19 November 2020.

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.

The delay is notable for a few reasons. Firstly, the US elections are scheduled for later this year and hosting the COP26 conference one year on from the results would either enable Donald Trump to complete his withdrawal process from the Paris Agreement, or enable a democratic president to renegotiate the US’s involvement in the global climate accord.

Secondly, negotiations have started on a “Paris-style” global agreement to halt irreversible ecological damage and biodiversity loss as part of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Preliminary conferences and meetings relating to the CBD’s COP conference have all been cancelled and postponed due to Covid-19, with the COP15 conference in China set to occur in October 2021. It is thought that the UN wants to keep to this running order in terms of its global negotiations.

Finally, despite being the first major economy to legislate for net-zero emissions, the UK government is yet to unveil a clear and succinct roadmap on how to deliver the rapid emissions reductions required.

The UK still also needs to submit an updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). The UK’s current emissions reductions submission as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement was submitted as part of the European Union (EU). Having since exited the Union, the UK will need to submit an individual target. 

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) will be recommending future carbon budgets in September, giving ministers more than a year to flesh out a roadmap to those targets.

Matt Mace



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