Coronavirus hits a critical year for nature, climate
Covid-19 could derail new global agreements on biodiversity, oceans and COP26 climate talks. In October, the city of Kunming in southwestern China is scheduled to host COP15, the 15th conference of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the most important biodiversity conference in a decade.
This year’s packed agenda of negotiations on climate change, biodiversity and the global ocean were supposed to address the fortunes of a living world in a critical condition. But the coronavirus pandemic is forcing drastic changes to the schedule.
The Covid-19 virus, which has infected more than 170,000 people, has hit hardest China and European countries, where several key meetings for achieving new environmental commitments have already been cancelled or postponed. More are in doubt.
The UN Climate Change secretariat, in close collaboration with all the other organizing partners, has decided to put Africa Climate Week in Kampala on hold. This is to ensure the health and safety of all participants in light of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
The Ministry of Health of Uganda has issued guidance that arrivals in Uganda from the most affected countries will be held quarantine in government hospitals if they display symptoms, or will be placed in self-isolation for 14 days if they do not display symptoms.
In light of this, the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) has requested that events and workshops with participants from affected countries to be placed on hold so as not to contravene instructions from the Government of Uganda and for the safety and wellbeing of UN personnel working in Uganda.
In October this year, China will play host to the UN’s fifteenth global summit on biodiversity, or the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). However, a preparatory meeting due to convene in Yunnan province later this month has been relocated to Rome as the novel coronavirus epidemic grips China.
A UN conference on protecting marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, scheduled for March 23 in New York was also shelved and the WTO (World Trade Organization) has suspended all meetings. If the move is extended, it could affect the June annual meeting in Kazakhstan, which has the elimination of fishing subsidies high on the agenda.
One more UN meeting is under threat. The Ocean Conference 2020, on the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 on life below water, is scheduled for June in Lisbon, Portugal. June had been shaping up to be a crucial month for issues affecting the health of the global ocean.
This second iteration of the ocean conference is aimed at getting countries to make voluntary commitments on marine protection, including tougher fishing regulations and improved conservation of coastal and marine areas.
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa announced recently that despite the COVID-19 epidemic, functions of the UN Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat are continuing, with most staff working from home, and the secretariat making the best possible use of telecommuting and teleconferencing options in order to deliver on its mandates.
She said that only a reduced number of colleagues would remain in the Bonn office, for example to ensure internet connectivity and support for the organization and delivery of virtual meetings. All other staff are work remotely from home. The arrangement is valid to 12 April and will then be reassessed.
“The health and well-being of the UNFCCC staff remain my greatest concern. It is therefore essential that we reduce social contact to a minimum and follow the clear recommendations of the World Health Organization, the German Government and local authorities to minimize the risks of transmitting COVID-19,” she said.
The UN’s top climate change official announced the secretariat is exploring the most advantageous and creative ways to ensure its ongoing support to the intergovernmental process on climate change. This is happening through remote work and modern technology, including video conferencing. For example, the upcoming meeting of the Adaptation Committee, commencing today in Bonn, will take place virtually.
In a briefing recently to Member States about the UN Climate Change Conference COP26, taking place in Glasgow in November, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called 2020 “a pivotal year for how we address climate change”, adding that success in Glasgow depends on countries, the private sector and civil society demonstrating that they are taking significant steps to raise ambition on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, building resilience to climate and financing both.
“If we are going to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we need to demonstrate, starting this year, how we will achieve emissions reductions of 45% from 2010 levels this decade, and how we will reach net-zero emissions by mid-century,” he said.
Secretary-General Guterres listed four priorities for COP 26: First, that national climate plans – the NDCs – should show that countries are working to implement the Paris agreement, and that each new NDC should show more ambition than the previous one. Second, that all nations should adopt strategies to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Third, the development of a robust package of projects and initiatives to help communities and nations adapt to climate disruption and build resilience against future impacts. And fourth, the provision of finance, with developed countries at COP26 delivering on their commitment to mobilize 100 billion dollars a year by 2020.
Addressing government officials at the event, incoming COP26 President, UK Minister Alok Sharma, said: “Whether we live in the South or the North, the East or the West, we share one life-giving but fragile planet. And all our futures are intrinsically linked.”
COP26, he said, “can be a moment where the world comes together to ramp up momentum towards a climate-resilient, zero-carbon economy, sending out a message of ambition and hope that decarbonization is the future, with huge opportunities for those who are willing to act now.”
Mr. Sharma said that the need to act now on climate change had been further reinforced through meetings he’d had whilst in New York with the permanent representatives of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Least Developed Countries and others who are on the frontline of climate impacts. He cited a SIDS representative who told him: “Tackling climate change is an existential issue for us, if we do not get it right, we will no longer have a place to call home.”
Mr. Sharma said that at COP26, the world must seek to agree on a package which takes forward the Paris Agreement and powers the UN climate process onwards and that to this end the UK with its partner Italy would work in the run-up to the summit not just with nations, but also cities, regions, companies, the Multilateral Development Banks, the Development Finance Institutions, as well as civil society in all its forms.
Mr. Sharma also underscored the need to unleash the necessary finance to power the shift to a zero-carbon economy, adding that as COP26 President he would continue current efforts by the UK to mobilize finance for developing countries.
This would include asking countries to make ambitious future international climate finance commitments such as the £11.6 billion contributions by the UK over the period from 2021 to 2025, double the previous commitment. He highlighted the fact that achieving net-zero requires a “whole economy transition”, underlining the opportunity this presents to turn climate change into a growth opportunity for the global economy.