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expert reaction to the postponement of the COP26 UN Climate change conference

The COP Bureau of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, with the UK and its Italian partners, have made the decision to postpone COP26, due to happen in Glasgow later this year, until 2021.


Prof Andrew Charlton-Perez , Head of Dept. of Meteorology, University of Reading, said:

“The delay of COP26 until 2021 is a sensible and prudent decision, allowing governments around the world to focus both on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and giving time and space to consider how to make the next COP truly effective. This shouldn’t delay the urgent climate action that both the scientific community and the public have been calling for, with renewed purpose over the last 18 months. The climate crisis needs to be fought with the same energy and government focus as has been demonstrated in recent weeks, making effective policy based on high quality scientific advice.”


Prof Keith P Shine FRS, Regius Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading said:

 “This is the right decision for the right reason. However urgent the climate situation felt, even a few weeks ago, I don’t think we can expect those at higher levels of government to properly focus on that issue until the more immediate crisis shows signs of being under control”


Prof Mark Maslin, Professor of Climatology, University College London (UCL), said:

“The sensible decision has been taken to delay COP26. This is a blessing in disguised as many of us were aware that the Government was nowhere near ready to lead such momentous and important international negotiations. Now we have time to prepare properly and learn lessons from the unprecedented global response to Covid-19 to how best to deal with climate change. 

“Because Covid-19 response does offer major insights into how we can collectively deal with climate change.  Since the 1980s there has been a move away from Government regulation and general support for society.  This shift has varied between country but can be seen everywhere. This has lead to whole generations accepting the idea that markets and business know best because they are supposedly more efficient than anything organised by Governments. But what Covid-19 dramatically illustrates is that markets, business and industry though essential for our modern life – structurally do not act in everyone’s best interests. Governments have the critical central role in maintaining our health and safety especially in times of crisis.   

“Government incentives, policies, nudges, taxation, regulation and enforcement can shape society to ensure the best outcomes – so we need to harness this new acceptance of Government dominance of our lives and shift national and global economies to a more sustainable footprint. Dealing with climate change if done properly can also help us deal with the next pandemic. For example shifting to localised renewable energy increases energy security. Removing fossil fuel subsidies provides trillions of extra dollars for our health systems. Dramatically decreasing meat consumption increases human health and reduces the chance of zoonosis and thus new pandemics developing. Instigating Universal Basic Income has shown to reduce non-essential consumption and also protects the economy from the next pandemic as everyone will have enough money to live on however long social distancing must be maintained. Delaying COP26 will allow us to understand how Covid-19 has changed our view of Governments and their role in society. By embracing this we can now ensure that win-win solutions are adopted to deal with the climate change emergency and to protect our people just as we are doing against the virus.” 


Prof Chris Hilson, Professor of Law, Director of the Reading Centre for Climate and Justice, University of Reading, said:

“Delay seemed inevitable to me. You need preparation for these sorts of big events – by the host country and by those attending. Even if we’re out of lockdown by November, governments worldwide will still be sorting out the fallout of the current Coronavirus crisis. Holding it remotely would not have produced the world attention it needs, and even that would have required significant preparation. But governments should not be delaying their actual action and planning on climate change: that show must absolutely go on, even if the actual COP meeting does not.

“The biggest risk is thinking that we now can’t afford climate change measures because the economic recovery from the Coronavirus crisis has to come first. Government and industry – including the US, China and carmakers in the EU, are already seeking to slacken off vehicle emissions standards for just this reason. This is penny wise but pound foolish: climate change is itself expected to produce huge costs if not tackled soon, and urban air pollution is also already responsible for millions of premature deaths across the world every year. The only difference is that those deaths are less visible than the daily Covid-19 figures that politicians can’t easily ignore. What government should be doing instead is to make state support for businesses conditional on them committing to meeting climate targets. They also need to use weakened oil prices to remove fossil fuel subsidies.

“The physical reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, caused by the widespread industrial and transport shutdown in response to the virus, has been widely noted. This is, however, a temporary, one-off win, which is also true of the equally widely observed co-benefits such as cleaner air (notably in Chinese cities) and water (such as in Venice’s canals, freed of water traffic and cruise ships ) and improved nature conservation (through lower human interference because of lockdown). The question remains whether it will produce the necessary longer-term change needed to tackle climate change. In fact, the climate imaginary provided by the shutdown could indeed help shape a longer-term response, because it has shown us what a climate friendly future might look like. This imaginary, with closed airlines, empty roads and shopping malls, consumption reduced to the real essentials, and videoconferencing and home working, forces us all to question our previous, taken for granted, way of life.”


Prof Dave Reay, Professor of Carbon Management & Education, University of Edinburgh, said:

“Postponing COP26 is understandable given the turmoil all nations are enduring. COP26 was (and still is) all about getting the world back on track for meeting the Paris Climate Goals. It was about increasing ambition and agreeing the way forward on climate change over the next decade and beyond. That way forward is now shrouded in the deadly mist that is Covid-19. Yet climate change and the huge threats it poses have not gone away. Global temperatures and sea levels will continue to rise, extreme weather events will get even more extreme.

“Yes, COP26 has been postponed. This must not mean action on climate change is also postponed. With every delayed action or misspent dollar of economic stimulus the risks posed by climate change grow further. If the government recovery packages being put in place around the world today are not green, then the future looks blacker than ever. Yet many are overtly recognising the need for sustainability and resilience to be embedded in such investments, to avoid the mistakes made after the 2008 financial crisis and think long term. These are bleak times for us all, but Glasgow, and COP26 when it happens, can still be the port in this global storm we all need.”




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