The spread of COVID-19 across the world has seen countries go into lockdown to limit the casualties attributable to the virus. Due to tougher travel restrictions implemented, international climate negotiations that require diplomats and experts from all over the world to participate are also affected, forcing most of the meetings to be postponed.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat announced that it would not hold any physical meetings in its headquarters in Bonn, Germany, or elsewhere in the world until the end of April amid efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Twelve meetings planned are affected by the decision, according to UNFCCC’s calendar. They have been working to find alternative arrangements, exploring the most advantageous and creative ways to ensure its ongoing support to the intergovernmental process on climate change. Most of the staffs are working from home, making the best possible use of telecommuting and teleconferencing options in order to deliver on its mandates.
The scale of the impacts of COVID-19 on the global timetable for action on climate change is not yet known. But due to delays, the officials are now under pressure on an already tight timetable to raise global ambitions and put the world on course to limit global warming to 1.5C when they gather for United Nations-led climate talks, known as COP26, in Glasgow, UK in November. It is likely that travel restrictions will be extended even further, anticipating the postponement of the COP26 climate summit.
The annual climate meeting in Bonn in June is also at risk. This is the last UNFCCC negotiation session ahead of this year’s COP26, where countries are expected to lay the groundwork. Italy is also meant to run some key preparatory meetings ahead of COP26, but now it is currently the worst-hit European country.
2020 is a crucial year for global climate action. Under the Paris Agreement, governments are required to put forward stronger emission reduction pledges in the form of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). According to the World Resources Institute, more than 100 vulnerable and developing countries, representing about 15% of global emissions have expressed intention to submit its NDCs.
The Philippines is one of the countries currently revising its NDC with view to submitting in 2020. It aims to reduce and avoid future carbon emissions by as much as 70% from business as usual level with the support of developed countries in adherence to climate justice. Although an insignificant emitter with respect to global emissions, our country would be able to avoid nonetheless future carbon emissions by pursuing low carbon development pathways with climate change adaptation and resilience building actions. This is in line with the aim to secure the achievement of the Philippines’ long-term vision presented in the AmBisyon Natin 2040.
But these efforts could be delayed as the international organizations which support, design, and deliver climate plans have to postpone national coordination meetings and workshops. The NDC process usually required about three large in-country meetings with a broad range of national stakeholders and five smaller, more focused, meetings. Though some of the meetings could be moved online. Also, countries are focused now on the response to the effects of the COVID-19, which brought the global economy to a standstill, makes it difficult to create momentum towards updating the NDCs, however urgent this may be. Tackling climate change seems to subside in the priority lists. Rushing an international climate agreement trying to make up for lost time may not be the best course of action, even if the timeframes to combat the climate emergency are shrinking by the day.
Achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement requires robust action to set the societal boundaries to address the crisis collectively, informed by the best available science. Governments around the world are doubling down on containing the COVID-19 pandemic, showing what a response to a global crisis – also the climate crisis – can and should look like: government action informed by science and individual behavioral change enabling the transformation, while focusing on protecting the most vulnerable and leaving no one behind.