The conference was set to be the largest summit the UK had ever hosted — with over 36,000 delegates likely to attend, according to the Cabinet Office, including 200 world leaders.
But with governments around the world still getting to grips with the COVID-19 outbreak, the UK and the UN met on Wednesday night to discuss the future of the summit — and agreed to delay it, likely until the middle of next year.
#COP26 has been postponed due to #COVID19.— COP26 (@COP26) April 1, 2020
This decision has been taken jointly by the COP Bureau of the @UNFCCC with the UK and partners Italy.
Tackling climate change remains a key priority for the UK and the international community.https://t.co/480CKVV3E1pic.twitter.com/ugTAXt9iVT
Alok Sharma — the UK’s business secretary and President of COP26 — has in recent days become better known for replacing Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock at the UK government’s daily COVID-19 briefings, as the pair recover from the virus themselves.
But at a time when Glasgow's Scottish Events Campus — the space that was to host the event — is about to transform into a temporary hospital, Sharma and UN officials, including its climate lead Patricia Espinosa, decided that the virus response must be prioritised above all else.
“The world is currently facing an unprecedented global challenge and countries are rightly focusing their efforts on saving lives and fighting COVID-19,” Sharma said in a statement. “That is why we have decided to reschedule COP26.”
“We will continue working tirelessly with our partners to deliver the ambition needed to tackle the climate crisis and I look forward to agreeing a new date for the conference,” he added.
#COVID19 is the most urgent threat facing humanity today, but we cannot forget that #ClimateChange is the biggest threat over the long term. What links them is the concept of humanity working to achieve a common goal in order to reduce human suffering—now and in the future.— Patricia Espinosa C. (@PEspinosaC) April 1, 2020
While climate activists were certainly disappointed, the difficult decision was widely understood. However, many are urging governments to remember that the climate crisis should not be forgotten during the pandemic.
Indeed, the European Union is still pushing ahead with its climate plans, while continuing to tackle COVID-19.
When the bloc passed its “European Green Deal” legislation on March 4, establishing 2050 as the target to hit “net zero emissions”, there was fury from campaigners including Greta Thunberg that it did little to address carbon emissions in the short term.
Thunberg called the law a “surrender”, and urged the EU to create ambitious climate targets to be met by 2030 too.
In response, the EU launched a public consultation on Tuesday to seek feedback on the 2030 target — specifically, whether it should cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% or 55% from 1990 levels. Right now the target is just 40%. You can access the public consultation here.
“While all the Commission’s immediate political focus is on the task of combating the coronavirus, we are continuing our preparatory work on long-term policy priorities including the European Green Deal,” the European Commission said in a statement.
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