Organizers of the United Nations COP 26 climate change conference that has been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic announced Thursday that the summit will now be held during the first two weeks of November 2021 in Glasgow—prompting a new wave of calls for world leaders to pursue a green and just recovery to the ongoing public health crisis.
"Only governments which are guided by science and sensitive to their most vulnerable in facing down the pandemic will be equipped to contribute to the enormous collective global action needed to tackle climate change."
—Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace International
"The postponement should not delay urgently needed action on climate change which is already increasing poverty and suffering around the world," declared Oxfam GB chief executive Danny Sriskandarajah.
The decision to delay COP 26—initially set for November 2020—was made last month. The new dates were agreed on by the Bureau of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC ) following a formal request Tuesday from the United Kingdom, which is hosting the summit with Italy.
"As host, the U.K. government has the opportunity to take a global lead in creating post-pandemic plans to build back a better, greener economy and pushing countries to develop more ambitious emission reduction plans to avoid the worst impacts of climate change," said Sriskandarajah. "While COP 26 is delayed, the promise by wealthy countries to provide $100 billion annually to help poorer nations cope with climate shocks still stands and should be delivered this year."
Greenpeace International executive director Jennifer Morgan delivered a similar message, saying in a statement that "obviously delaying the meeting because of the pandemic cannot be avoided, but it is also a luxury that the most vulnerable people and countries cannot afford."
"Right now, real leaders should be doubling-down their efforts to ensure a green and just recovery in handling this health crisis and the climate emergency," she continued. "Only governments which are guided by science and sensitive to their most vulnerable in facing down the pandemic will be equipped to contribute to the enormous collective global action needed to tackle climate change."
Morgan added that "by the time we get to COP 26, we expect to see governments, tested by the pandemic, guided by the science and prepared to act unequivocally and with unity to end the climate emergency by bringing an end to the age of fossil fuels."
After tweeting Thursday that the new dates for the summit were "prudent," former UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres said: "In the meantime, no time to lose! Well before #COP26, governments will decide on #Covid-19 recovery packages. They need to be green, inclusive, and job intensive if we are to safeguard our future. That is our immediate task."
"Well before #COP26, governments will decide on #Covid-19 recovery packages. They need to be green, inclusive, and job intensive if we are to safeguard our future."
—Christiana Figueres, formerly UNFCCC
Figueres concluded with the hashtag #BuildBackBetter, one of several calls from climate activists, scientists, policymakers, and healthcare workers worldwide in response to the pandemic.
As the global total of confirmed Covid-19 cases has topped 5.85 million, coalitions have demanded their governments pursue a #PeoplesBailout, Just Recovery, Healthy Recovery, Green Recovery, Green Stimulus, and Global Green New Deal.
Some policies have been put forward already, such as a €750 billion Next Generation E.U. released Wednesday by the European Commission. Campaigners praised the proposal to inject billions into the European economy while promoting a green recovery but also expressed concern that, in the words of Greenpeace E.U. director Jorgo Riss, "this plan does not go far enough to free us from pollution as usual."
Although the lockdowns that governments enacted to contain the virus temporarily caused a decrease in the global production of planet-heating emissions and other pollution, experts continue to emphasize that the declines will be temporary if the world returns to business and usual and refuses to rapidly make systemic changes in the global energy, food, and transportation sectors.
At COP 26, governments party to the 2015 Paris climate accord—which aims to limit global temperature rise this century to "well below" 2°C—are set to discuss their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), or their pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. After the new dates were announced, the Elders urged countries to continue pursuing more ambitous NDCs in a tweet Friday:
Momentum cannot be lost between now & #COP26 in November 2021.
2020 is a vital year for increasing #ClimateAmbition:
— The Elders (@TheElders) May 29, 2020
COP 26 president and U.K. Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma also called on the world leaders to "to raise their ambitions to tackle climate change" in the statement from summit organizers announcing the new dates.
"While we rightly focus on fighting the immediate crisis of the coronavirus, we must not lose sight of the huge challenges of climate change," said Sharma. "With the new dates for COP 26 now agreed we are working with our international partners on an ambitious roadmap for global climate action between now and November 2021."
"The steps we take to rebuild our economies," he added, "will have a profound impact on our societies' future sustainability, resilience, and well-being and COP 26 can be a moment where the world unites behind a clean resilient recovery."