CAFOD has warned that the postponement of key international climate talks that were due to take place in the UK later this year does not mean that steps to tackle the crisis can be delayed.
The Catholic aid agency’s warning comes following the announcement that the Cop26 meeting, which was set to take place at Glasgow’s Scottish Events Campus from 9th to 20th November, has now been postponed to next year, while the venue is being turned into a temporary Covid-19 field hospital.
“We have to do all we can to minimise the spread of the coronavirus and protect the most vulnerable people in the UK and worldwide,” Neil Thorns, director of advocacy at CAFOD, told The Catholic Universe.
“That inevitably means that preparations for the COP will be thrown off-course for the time being, but postponing the COP doesn’t mean the steps to tackle the climate crisis can be delayed. The Paris Agreement requires countries to submit new climate targets in 2020 – whether the COP is held or not – so governments still can and must put their plans in place to cut emissions.
“We need to use the additional time to ensure the COP is a forum for making decisions which will rebuild our economies in a way that protects the world’s poorest people. Governments have pledged extraordinary amounts of money to prevent economic disasters from this pandemic, but that money must not be used to finance future environmental destruction,” added Mr Thorns.
An announcement from the UN’s climate body, the UNFCCC, and the UK Government said the summit would be pushed back to 2021 in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision to postpone was taken by the UNFCCC with the UK and its Italian partners in hosting Cop26, with dates in 2021 set out after further discussion.
UK Business and Energy Secretary Alok Sharma said: “The world is currently facing an unprecedented global challenge and countries are rightly focusing their efforts on saving lives and fighting Covid-19. 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.”
UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa said: “Covid-19 is the most urgent threat facing humanity today, but we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term.
“Soon, economies will restart. This is a chance for nations to recover better, to include the most vulnerable in those plans, and a chance to shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, just, safe and more resilient.”
A mid-year UN climate meeting scheduled for June in Bonn, Germany, which would have laid groundwork for the November talks, has been delayed to October.
Cop26 is the most important round of talks since the global Paris Agreement to tackle climate change was secured in 2015.
This year marks the date by which countries are expected to come forward with stronger emissions cuts to meet the goals of the deal.
Plans submitted so far put the world on a pathway towards more than 3C of warming, though the Paris Agreement commits countries to curb temperatures to 1.5C or 2C above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
But with countries around the world grappling with coronavirus, and many putting citizens in lockdown, governments are prioritising the immediate global health crisis.
Holding an “ambitious, inclusive” meeting in November was no longer possible, and rescheduling would allow countries to focus on climate and allow more time for preparations, the UN and the UK said.
Dates for key international meetings addressing declines in wildlife are also being shifted due to the pandemic.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: ‘A disappointing decision, but absolutely the right one as we all focus on the fight against #coronavirus. We look forward to welcoming the world to Glasgow in 2021 #COP26.’
Picture: Sir David Attenborough at the launch of the COP26 UN Climate Summit at the Science Museum, London, on 4th February 2020. (Chris J Ratcliffe/PA).