Postponement of COP26 provides opportunity for deep collaborative work to achieve a more resilient & prosperous future.

On Wednesday, April 1, 2020, the UN Climate Change secretariat and the UK Government—which holds the COP26 Presidency—announced the annual UN climate negotiations will be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic emergency. The conference—which will be the largest ever held in Scotland, bringing together more than 25,000 diplomats, experts, and observers from 196 nations—will be held at a not-yet-announced time in 2021.

This is the right decision.

Urgent life-saving work needs to happen before Glasgow can prepare for such a large gathering, and the social distancing necessary to buy time for a treatment or a vaccine, prevent the collapse of health services, and save lives, will push planning back even further. The Scottish Events Campus, where the COP26 was to be held, is being converted into a field hospital.

Beyond the COVID-19 emergency response taking place now, there are also the operational imperatives for the global climate negotiations of inclusion and ambition.

  • Many nations, regions, issue areas, and/or constituencies will be severely under-represented, as both economic disruption and the later waves of the pandemic affect countries around the world.
  • Preparatory work for the COP includes detailed technical negotiations on dozens of complex subjects.
  • The day-to-day chances of people everywhere for a healthy and prosperous existence will be shaped by the degree of ambition in NDC upgrades and the shared COP26 outcome.

COP26 delay should invite deeper, more detailed intersessional work.

If all nations are to introduce more detailed, more ambitious, better-resourced national climate action strategies, there will be a need for detailed, inclusive, and focused intersessional work. This means strategies must be developed to allow for those meetings to take place virtually, and to feed into the rescheduled 52nd meeting of the Subsidiary Bodies (SB52) in late September and early October.

  • The new calendar shortens the SB52 meetings, which are now scheduled for October 4 through October 12.
  • Preparatory meetings will be held from September 28 through October 3, however.
  • There is also the possibility of substantive, structured, intergovernmental work, with the support of observers and experts, to advance on key areas of concern.
  • There is also an expanded opportunity for virtual engagement to open up and add detail to the planning of upgraded NDCs.

CCE and Engage4Climate are in the process of creating structured strategies—rooted in the experience of the Acceleration Dialogues and the Engage4Climate Toolkit—for Virtual Stakeholder Meetings and Virtual Diplomatic Dialogues, so this prolonged intersessional period can achieve as many meaningful breakthroughs as possible.

Recovery from COVID-19 must build resilience.

The near complete shutdown of the everyday economy has pushed hundreds of millions of people across the world out of work, at least temporarily, highlighted structural inequality, and made it likely overall economic activity will decline this year. That we understand this is the result of a deliberate life-saving effort does not change the fact that prolonged and uneven deprivation will make it harder to recover fully.

  • The pervasive economic inefficiency of unsustainable practices already costs trillions of dollars per year.
  • The IMF estimates the cost of direct and indirect subsidies for carbon fuels that pollute and disrupt the climate and cause serious human health impacts is more than US$5 trillion per year.
  • The staggering losses now facing the global economy mean we cannot afford to spend money building a partial and unequal recovery that maintains those locked-in costs.

As Ban Ki-moon and Patrick Verkooijen have written:

The Global Commission on Adaptation estimates that investing just $1.8 trillion in building resilience against climate change over the next decade could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits. Investment in green technology and resilient infrastructure could help put our coronavirus-shattered world back together again.

The future of everything is at stake.

No nation can afford to take its attention off the COVID-19 emergency. Nor can any nation afford to fall behind the adaptation, resilience, and innovation curve. With such huge sums of money being set aside for sustenance and recovery, across the world, we know we will soon see an unprecedented project of rapid global development and rebuilding.

  • The choices made during this time will shape economic efficiencies and inefficiencies for a generation.
  • There will be huge legacy costs for industries and communities that reflexively retreat to business as usual.
  • Nations that miss the opportunity to build back better will see longer and slower recoveries, with less room for future expansion of wellbeing.

Building resilience means overcoming inertia. To do this, we must carefully and creatively dismantle the structural inefficiencies that make the majority of people everywhere unacceptably vulnerable to natural and economic shocks.

The future of everything is at stake—how we work, how clean the air is that we breathe, whether the instruments of government work for the general welfare, or against it, whether we are well nourished or hungry, safe or unsafe.

  • We cannot afford to fail against COVID-19.
  • We cannot afford to let COVID-19 undermine the urgently needed global collaboration toward a climate resilient future
  • We must come together now, to do the detailed work required to transcend systemic vulnerability.