UK keen to avoid virtual COP26 climate summit: Minister

The British government will do “everything we can” to avoid a virtual climate summit in November when it is set to host nearly 200 nations in Glasgow, Scotland, the minister in charge of the 12-day meet told AFP in an interview.

“We are planning for a physical event,” Alok Sharma, President of COP26, said in Paris Tuesday after meeting with former French prime minister Laurent Fabius.

“We will plan for contingencies, but we will do everything we can to ensure that this is a physical meeting.”

Fabius presided over the 2015 UN negotiations leading to the landmark Paris Agreement. 

Originally slated for November 2020, the annual UN climate talks — a pop-up conclave of 25,000 to 30,000 people — were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Keeping not only those who are attending the meeting safe, but of course also the people of Glasgow” is a top priority, Sharma said, adding that he was “cautiously optimistic” that vaccines and rapid testing would make a face-to-face gathering possible.

“That is what the parties we talk to want to happen,” he said.

Perhaps not all parties, a French diplomat suggested.

“More than a few countries are hiding behind the need to work via virtual platforms, using it as a pretext to say ‘we can’t negotiate and make progress on specific points’,” he told AFP.

A Conservative MP since 2010, Sharma stepped down as secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy in January to focus exclusively on preparing the high-stakes climate meet.

His biggest challenge in to run-up to the November 1-12 conference, he said, will be coaxing governments to announce more aggressive short-term plans to slash carbon pollution.

“I am asking countries to come forth with ambitious emissions reductions targets in the near term, their 2030 NDCs,” he said, referring to greenhouse gas reduction plans known as nationally determined contributions.

The world’s biggest emitters — including the European Union, China and the United States under the Biden administration — have vowed to make their economies carbon neutral by mid-century.

-Keeping 1.5C in reach –

But without a rapid drawdown of greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade, the Paris target of capping global warming “well below” two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels — much less the aspirational goal of 1.5C — will be missed, scientists warn.

Last week UN chief Antonio Guterres noted that “governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

On Tuesday, the International Energy Agency reported that global CO2 emissions — which plummeted seven percent in 2020 — have returned to pre-pandemic levels, and then some.

Under the terms of the 2015 Paris deal, nations agreed to submit revised plans every five years, but most major economies missed the end-of-2020 deadline, blaming the pandemic. 

Current carbon cutting pledges add up to 3C of warming by 2100, according to the UN.

Britain has led by example, vowing to cut carbon emissions at least 68 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, the most ambitious goal of any major economy. 

Sharma said ramping up developing nations aid to $100 billion per year to help curb emissions and cope with climate impacts is also a top priority.

The deadline for reaching that threshold was 2020, but financing remains mired in controversy, with developing nations saying the goal has not been reached, and that too much of the aid given is in the form of loans rather than grants.

Sorting out new rules for carbon markets, putting all nations on the same schedule for revising their NDCs, and boosting plans for adapting to future climate impacts are also high on the agenda, Sharma said.

by Marlowe HOOD