One of the world’s foremost experts on the climate crisis, Nicholas Stern, has asked the prime minister not to postpone the UN climate talks later this year, in spite of the developing coronavirus pandemic.
There have been private discussions between officials and ministers with regard to the postponement of November’s COP26 talks in Glasgow. However, no decision has been made as of yet.
Lord Stern is concerned that delaying the talks would be a significant blow to any real progress being made.
“At the moment we must just get on with the preparation,” Stern said. “This is such an urgent challenge and there is so much to do, and so much valuable work that is being done, that we can’t afford to lose the momentum”.
The purpose of the COP26 conference was for countries to come up with a more robust plan for cutting greenhouse emissions, as the Paris agreement has been deemed to be inadequate.
Stern said that the virus had made work more challenging, but not unachievable. Any postponement of the upcoming conference would slow down the process at a time when things need to be sped up.
Yvo de Boer, former chief of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, shares the same sentiment as Stern. De Boer said that working towards a November COP26 was crucial and “If it is going to be cancelled, that should only be done at the last possible minute – in October”.
Another former high-ranking official who was involved in putting together the Paris agreement said: “Cancelling now might look like the UK was grasping too soon for a way out of an important meeting”.
Postponement is also seen as being counterproductive by some developing country experts and NGOs. Director of Power Shift Africa, Mohamed Adow, said: “We would rather not see it cancelled until we know more about the spread of the virus. Cancelling it immediately might mean action on climate change gets ignored this year and people on the frontlines in poorer countries can’t afford that”.
Deputy chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, Janine Felson, said: “We cannot afford to lose any momentum. We should all focus our energies on ensuring that we can support each other through this trying time and continue to push for ambition”.
However, some experts believe that delaying the talks would allow more time for diplomacy. The executive director of Greenpeace UK, John Sauven wrote to the business secretary and president of COP26, Alok Sharma, suggesting that the conference be delayed:
“Postponement is very different to cancellation. It would be the same president, the same venue, the same two countries co-hosting, so all you are doing is having a slight delay. The UK got off to a slow start [in putting together its strategy for the hosting of Cop26] so postponement would give more time for the work that is needed”.
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