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UN Climate Summit postponed: coronavirus vs climate change?

Written by Current Affairs, Science

The UNFCCC has postponed COP26, the global climate summit due to be held in Glasgow. They state: “In light of the ongoing, worldwide effects of COVID-19, holding an ambitious, inclusive COP26 in November 2020 is no longer possible.”

This will protect the health of all delegates and allow global efforts to focus on the pressing challenge of coronavirus, however, coronavirus is not the only pressing challenge faced by humanity. As the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said, “COVID-19 is the most urgent threat facing humanity today, but we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term.”

At the time of writing, there have been a devastating 400,000 worldwide deaths from COVID-19. For perspective, the projected anthropogenic global warming (AGW) of 2°C “will indirectly cause roughly 1,000,000,000 future premature deaths, spread over one to two centuries.” (R Parncutt, 2019). This is not a ‘worst-case scenario’ unfortunately, this is an ‘easily could happen scenario’.

By delaying COP26, it seems likely that climate change efforts will dwindle, potentially causing serious ramifications. For instance, it is already possible that we will not meet the Paris agreement (of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 – 2°C AGW), and by delaying COP26 this likelihood is increasing. As of December 2019, we had already reached the 1.1°C mark, and with our current rate of emissions, we could hit the 1.5°C mark as soon as 2030 (IPCC, 2018).

It is already possible that we will not meet the Paris agreement

The postponement of COP26 is especially disappointing given the chaos that occurred in the last COP meeting, COP25, which involved endless disagreements, emissions cover-ups, and a general lack of consensus. This meant there was even more pressure on COP26 to get back on track with international collaboration on climate change.

Patricia Espinosa (UNFCCC) also said “we continue to support and to urge nations to significantly boost climate ambition in line with the Paris Agreement.”, so hopefully the UNFCCC is still supporting and guiding member countries, even with the absence of COP26.

Previous efforts to address climate change appear minuscule when compared to those adressing coronavirus

To end this positively- On the topic of climate change, there are two silver-linings. Firstly, due to the pandemic response, global CO2 emissions were down by 17% in April, which could help steer us back on track, provided we come back from COVID-19 in a green, sustainable way. Secondly, COVID-19 has forced decision-makers to show their ability to respond in a crisis – with lockdowns, investments in healthcare, furlough schemes etc.. Previous efforts to address climate change appear minuscule when compared to the efforts taken to address coronavirus, despite both being huge threats to public health. Hopefully, this will be strong ammunition for the public to demand more climate change action from governments.

Last modified: 9th June 2020

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