Cop 26 Glasgow postponed over Covid-19 but climate crisis remains deadly

It would have been the worst April Fool in history had it not be so utterly, devastatingly true. Confirmation that this year’s planned Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow had been postponed.

Of course, it had been expected. It would be all but impossible to do, not with so many deaths, paralysed economies and the risks of such mass movements of people. Even a virtual conference would have been folly while everyone’s attentions are focused on the now.

Yet there must be and understanding that like Cornavirus, the climate crisis is killing people.

Back in 2014, the World Health Organisation estimated climate change alone would be responsible for around 250,000 additional deaths every year from 2030, taking in factors such as heat stress, malnutrition and malaria.

In January last year a research paper by The New England Journal of Medicine said that was an underestimate. It claimed WHO had failed to take into account mass population displacements or the affect on workforces and labour markets, particularly in areas of agriculture impacted by extreme weather changes.

The World Bank has already predicted that 100 million people could be forced into extreme poverty by the onset of climate change within the next 10 years.

So while the world grapples with Covid-19, it cannot, must not, ignore the other global killer casting a pall over all our lives.

After the problems around Cop25, the inaction, confirmation that the Coronavirus outbreak has also now laid waste to Cop26 is nothing less that a devastating blow to the fightback against climate change.

The decision to postpone was taken by the UNFCCC COP Bureau, the body that advises on COP processes. It is made up of representatives from the UN regional groups, the UNFCCC Secretariat and the COP Presidency.

The news leaked early on Wednesday evening. The Finnish environment minister Krista Mikkonen revealing in a Tweet the outcome of deliberations, sparking a cascade of reaction across the globe.

Official confirmation came soon after. But NGOs and others had been prepared for it. A slew of statements expressing “understanding” in these crazed times, but each with the kicker that the debate cannot, must not, be kicked into the uncut grass.

With news too that all five Edinburgh festivals have been axed for the year, the significance of losing an anticipated influx of 30,000 official delegates and a predicted 60,000 to 70,000 others to Glasgow and overspill regions cannot be underestimated. Hotels were booked, jobs created, orders financed.

The opportunity to put the climate agenda front and centre lost for 12-months, is a blow. Yet there are seeds being planted even as we speak. If Covid-19 has talk us nothing, then it is that we have to review how we live, work and act from top to bottom.

Among those reacting, Christiana Figueres the former UN climate chief behind the Paris Agreement, who had argued for the talks to continue, but in accepting the pause said world leaders must now  move to “ensure economic recovery packages post medical emergency make us more resilient to even bigger crises, such as climate change.”

Laurence Tubiana, fellow architect of the Paris Agreement and CEO of the European Climate Foundation, said: “Postponing COP26 is the right thing to do – public health and safety must come first now.  This crisis has shown that international cooperation and solidarity are essential to protect global well-being and peace. COP26 next year should become a centre piece of revitalized global cooperation.”

Tom Ballantine, chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, said: “While clearly hugely disappointing, this decision was absolutely necessary given the current situation with Covid-19. The immediate priority needs to be saving and protecting lives from this virus.

“We all need to do all we can to fight Covid-19, and many of our members are working to support vital services and the vulnerable during this period, including faith organisations, development charities, local community organisations and trade unionists.”

But he added: “Despite this decision to postpone COP26, the need for us to take action on the climate crisis remains as urgent as ever. This pandemic brings into even sharper focus that global crises need global answers.

“We also need collaboration and cooperation between governments to save lives from the climate crisis, with action based on what the science demands.

“When it happens, COP26 will be a critical opportunity to accelerate global climate action. It must secure faster action to slash climate emissions and to boost support to communities already being devastated by droughts, floods and storms, while ensuring the voices of those most impacted are fully heard.”

He said that when a new date for COP26 in Glasgow is announced, groups must be ready to act swiftly and decisively.

He added: “The decision to hold COP26 in Glasgow has led to real energy within communities and organisations in Scotland to create a climate-safe and climate-resilient future.

“Over the next few months much of this energy will be focused on Covid-19 support and action, but when this crisis is behind us and we look forward to a rescheduled COP, we are sure that the community networks that are being strengthened today will re-energise around climate action.”

Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President of the European Commission said nations had to still lead by doing, in spite of the decision. He said:

We will not slow down our work domestically or internationally to prepare for an ambitious COP26, when it takes place. At home, we have put in place the key EU laws to meet our existing 2030 climate and energy targets. In the long-term, we have committed to climate neutrality by 2050 and proposed a climate law that will make this objective legally binding. The legislative work on this proposal has started, even in these challenging circumstances.

Friends of the Earth Scotland Director Dr Richard Dixon said whenever the talks resume, it should ensure all relevant nations are in a position to participate.

And he warned against wealthy countries using the current world health crisis to shift priorities away from the global threat of climate crisis or support of impoverished nations.

He said: “Given the worldwide health dangers of coronavirus, it is understandable that the UN climate negotiations in Glasgow have been delayed. Every effort must be made to save lives and protect the vulnerable who will suffer the most in this crisis.

“However rich countries must not use the delay in the talks to delay taking urgent action on reducing emissions and providing climate finance for developing countries.

“Because the climate crisis is very urgent, COP26 needs to take place in the first half of 2021 and COP27 should still happen as planned that autumn.”

“The climate talks should go ahead as soon as it is safe to hold them, but it is essential that they do so on the basis that global south nations are able to fully attend and demand the action necessary to deal with the climate emergency. This means full access for global south nations, experts and activists.

“There is historical precedent for two sets of climate talks in one year, with two rounds of climate negotiations taking place in 2001 in Bonn and in Marrakech. “

Rachel Kennerley, international climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, wss in full agreement.

She said: “While postponement of the climate talks is a loss to international climate action, it doesn’t give governments a way out of facing their responsibilities. To stop climate breakdown we need international cooperation whenever the talks happen.

“We need to be asking what governments, especially the UK government, can do as part of the recovery from the coronavirus to make a fairer, healthier and sustainable future.

“People and communities around the world are already building solutions to the climate crisis.

“Now, during a pandemic, people and communities are showing again that huge change is possible. People will continue to build solutions to these crises and show what works, governments should follow their lead because there is a way out of both crises if we collaborate, listen to the science, and stop losing time.”

COP26 President-Designate and Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma said: “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.”

Italian Minister for the Environment, Land and Sea Protection, Sergio Costa, called on the world youth movement to lead meantime, saying: “Tackling climate change requires strong, global and ambitious action.

“Participation from the younger generation is imperative and we are determined to host the ‘Youth for Climate’ event, together with the Pre-Cop and outreach events.”

Fiona Hyslop, Scottish Minister for for Economy, Fair Work and Culture, said in a BBC radio interview on Thursday: “The whole point of having COP is not to just to hold an event, it’s for effective decision making, and we want countries to be in the best place to make effective decisions to tackle climate change.

“As we go through this crisis, people are behaving differently, they’re doing things that are different, and perhaps that might be an opportunity for us when we get through this to think about how we change our lives to deliver what COP wanted to do, which is substantial changes in climate emissions of the world in order to tackle that emergency.”

Scotland’s First Minister said the postponement was “disappointing” but right in the current circumstances.

They are all correct, but governments must be able to multitask. The climate crisis isn’t going to go away, it will only get worse.

Take the words of John Sauven, executive director at Greenpeace UK summed it up, saying: “The decision to postpone the climate talks in Glasgow was inevitable given the health emergency the world is currently facing. But while the summit has been delayed, the climate emergency can’t be put on hold.

“The government stimulus packages will hold the key to whether this emergency significantly delays or advances progress on tackling the climate emergency.”

He went on: “It’s during moments of crisis like this that what is possible starts to dramatically shift. The health of the planet and individual health need to be looked at as a whole.

“The pandemic has clearly shown that we are all affected and that we can only solve these challenges if we act together as a global community. Neither the pandemic nor the climate crisis stops at national borders.

“And that without governments, scientists and civil society working together neither Covid-19 nor the climate and nature crisis will be solved. By embracing this we are more likely to get a successful deal at the postponed climate and biodiversity summits next year.”

Ironically as streets are freed up of congestion, skies clear of pollution from aviation and heavy industry, and as people re-evaluate what is important in their lives, the world’s lungs will get a breath of fresh air.

If the agony of the body bags that will inevitably continue to pile-up over theses next months of global tragedy serve to tell us anything, it is of a future we face if we fail to respond by changing our ways.

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