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Delay to climate meetings cannot mean any delay to ambition

The Bureau of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC has decided to postpone the UN Climate Change meetings of the Subsidiary Bodies (SB52) – the technical meetings – until 2021, instead of holding them in October 2020 as originally planned.

The reason is to ensure that delegates can arrive and stay safely and in good health in the host city of Bonn, Germany. German health authorities had continued to counsel against mass gatherings, in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Members of the Bureau also wanted to ensure that participation in the meetings would be highly inclusive.

A notice on the UNFCCC website states that “the UN Climate Change secretariat and the SB Chairs will soon make proposals that will be sent to the members of the Bureau in order to decide on the specific plan going forward towards COP26”.

Least Developed Country Group response

The Chair of the Least Developed Country (LDC) Group of 47 countries, Hon. Sonam P. Wangdi of Bhutan, cautioned that this delay must not be an excuse to reduce climate ambition. Rather, it must be seen as an opportunity to scale up ambition and reset economies on to a more sustainable pathway.

Hon. Mr. Wangdi tweeted: “COVID-19 demands flexibility and new ways of working but climate action must continue.” He emphasised the need for rich countries to meet their commitments to get US $100 billion per year flowing in climate finance, and he stressed the need for all countries to enhance the ambition of their national climate plans, the Nationally Determined Contributions.

In a video, Hon. Mr. Wangdi acknowledged that economic recovery from COVID-19 will be difficult but it is “an opportunity to put in green elements”; he added that “it is a time for us to reflect on our production and consumption and how it has harmed the planet.”

AOSIS response

Ambassador Janine Felson, Vice Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) said:

“AOSIS is committed to maintaining momentum, notwithstanding the postponements” of the Subsidiary Bodies’ meetings.

“Parties still need to dialogue,” she said.  “The Presidency can facilitate dialogue so that when we are finally able to meet in person, we will be ready to take decisions.”

“The Alliance emphasises that in these trying times, we need focus and cooperation.  We must continue to heed the imperative of science to keep global warming below 1.5 [degrees].  Anything less would be a dereliction of our responsibility to the most vulnerable.”

Republic of Marshall Islands response

Kristina Stege, the Climate Envoy for the Republic of the Marshall Islands – which has long been a leader for climate ambition – said:

“The delay of negotiations means that now, more than ever, we must redouble our efforts to ensure the progress we need on climate action. This means completing enhanced NDCs this year. It also means making progress virtually on negotiations, and finalising outstanding elements of the Paris agreement work programme by COP26.”

Ms. Stege continued: “It also makes the trillions that will be spent on recovery even more critical to get right. If they’re spent wrongly and the world locks into a carbon-based future, all the climate negotiations in the world won’t save us.  COVID-19 recovery plans must be aligned with NDCs, strengthen the green economy, and make a 1.5 degree future possible. The leaders of developed countries must stand in solidarity with developing states, delivering on climate financing commitments and ensuring that all states can deliver a resilient recovery for their citizens.”

Countries were meant to submit revised NDCs earlier this year but thus far, only seven countries have submitted second NDCs with increased ambition: Andorra, Chile, Marshall Islands, Moldova, Norway, Rwanda and Suriname. While the political leadership of these countries is highly significant, nonetheless, most of these have a tiny greenhouse gas emissions profile in comparison with larger emitting countries. Their example must urgently be followed by others.

Ongoing action among African nations and roadmaps to COP26

The African Group of Negotiators (AGN) to the UNFCCC is already on record as expressing their hopes for considerably increased international ambition in the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow, UK. The Glasgow Conference of Parties is now scheduled for 1-12 November 2021.

Before COVID-19 travel restrictions were in place, the AGN Chair, Hon. Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale convened lead African negotiators in Libreville, Gabon to discuss how their countries can develop “long-term strategies sector by sector” to limit global warming to 1.5 °C as part of an African road map to COP26. 

Meanwhile, the COP26 Presidency in the United Kingdom issued a letter to all UNFCCC Parties and Observer bodies in May 2020, laying out a roadmap of key international events, which it said were an opportunity to keep focused on climate ambition. These included the UNFCCC Momentum meetings, just concluded this month, and a range of forthcoming meetings between now and COP26 including:

  • World Bank / International Monetary Fund meetings and other meetings of Development Banks; including the ‘Financing in Common‘ meeting;
  • G7 and G20 meetings, including a commitment by COP26 co-hosts the UK and Italy to ‘”use our 2021 Presidencies to scale up climate action”.

More information

Watch Hon. Sonam P. Wangdi, LDC Group Chair talk about priorities for countries on climate change in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reporting by Mairi Dupar of ODI/CASA programme. Image: courtesy Robert Couse Baker, flickr.

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