The Weekend Leader - Climate action not on hold amid COVID-19, say experts

Climate action not on hold amid COVID-19, say experts

VISHAL GULATI   |  New Delhi


With the UN climate body and the UK government announcing to defer the crucial climate negotiations, known as the COP26, for a year amid the coronavirus pandemic, climate experts on Thursday said the delay does not mean a postponement of climate action.

They said shifting the timing was a difficult decision but the right one in the face of the unprecedented health crisis.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) along with the UK government, which is serving as the COP26 Presidency, on Wednesday announced it will be postponing the Glasgow negotiations and the exact date will be determined following consultation with parties.

"The world is facing an unprecedented global challenge & countries are rightly focusing on fighting #COVID19. Due to this, #COP26 has been postponed," Indian-origin Alok Sharma, UK's Minister to lead the crucial UN climate talks, announced on Twitter.

"We will continue working with partners to deliver the ambition needed to tackle the climate crisis & agree a new date," he added.

World Resources Institute President and CEO Andrew Steer told IANS that shifting the timing of the climate summit was no doubt a difficult decision, but it is also the right one.

"In the face of this unprecedented health crisis, the world needs to rally together to fight the virus and help those most vulnerable to the economic fallout," he said.

Steer said as countries move forward with their revised national climate plans and set new commitments under the Paris Agreement, it is critically important that they take the necessary time to adjust to the current situation while also aiming to achieve the highest possible ambition.

"Strong climate action is as urgent as ever. A number of countries -- particularly the smaller, developing economies -- have already shown leadership and announced they will come forward with enhanced plans. These are extremely welcome. But now we need more of the large economies to step-up to the plate and set more ambitious targets," he said.

These national climate plans should not be disconnected from the recovery, but instead should be an integral part of national efforts to create jobs, boost growth, reduce health risks, and build more resilient economies, he added.

Under the Paris Agreement, struck in 2015, governments made a political commitment to deliver new climate plans this year.

This requirement still stands, but focus is now turning to the multi-trillion stimulus packages governments are preparing to reboot their economies as the pandemic subsides, and the extent to which these deliver a healthier, cleaner and resilient planet.

Ajay Mathur, Director General of TERI -- The Energy and Resource Institute, said the momentum for climate action has accelerated considerably, and "we will have to ensure that this momentum is sustained even as COP26 is moved to 2021".

However, this postponement, he said, was the right decision -- it highlights the centrality of the individual citizens of the world, and of their safety, security, and wellbeing.

"We need to keep this centrality in mind as we move to maintain and enhance momentum on climate action, while building a safer, healthier and more resilient global economy," Mathur added.

For Paris Agreement architect and CEO of the European Climate Foundation, Laurence Tubiana, public health and safety must come first now.

"The UK Presidency and all governments should use this time to design resilient recovery and transition plans that consider climate, biodiversity, development and social justice in an integrated way.

"This crisis has shown that international cooperation and solidarity are essential to protect global well-being and peace. COP26 next year should become a centrepiece of revitalized global cooperation," the French economist added.

The decision to delay is sensible, said Britain-based Christian Aid's Global Climate Lead, Kat Kramer.

"Many of the most vulnerable people in the world are already living through one emergency and climate impacts only increase this vulnerability. Countries still need to submit their enhanced climate plans by the end of year to be in line with the scientific imperative of limiting heating increases to 1.5 Celsius."

Harjeet Singh, ActionAid's global lead on climate change, said the climate disasters won't stop for the COVID-19 crisis.

Does UN talks deferment means climate action is on hold now for 2020?

A climate negotiator remarked far from it, emissions continue to rise despite a slowdown as a result of lockdowns.

The fact is the COVID-19 crisis has exposed profound fault lines and weaknesses in the multilateral systems.

"Negative impacts are profound and growing. COVID-19 has been a warning: we are all on this planet together. Countries are stronger working together, and international cooperation is the best option to resolve future existential threats, including climate change," he said.

Experts have come out saying that air pollution may exacerbate the effects of COVID-19.

The same polluting industries that are warming the planet are leaving the nations with toxic air to live in.

The best way to prepare is to reduce the possibilities of these climate-related global crises in the first place, by taking actions to halt global emissions. IANS

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