Coronavirus Postpones Climate Summits, But Climate Action Cannot be Delayed

The UNFCCC has confirmed the postponement of both the Bonn Conference and COP26. Although climate summits look unlikely in the near future, climate action cannot be delayed any further and countries must establish clear pathways to reducing their emissions. However, the world’s third-largest economy, Japan, has just released its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), which remain unvaried from those set out in 2015. This sets a worrying precedent and has led to widespread criticism and calls to action. 

On the 1st of April, the UNFCCC Secretariat confirmed what most already suspected: COP26, set to take place in Glasgow in November, has been postponed due to COVID-19. The UK hosts, with its Italian partners, agreed that under current conditions an inclusive and ambitious COP would not have been possible and therefore it was necessary to delay the meeting.

In accordance with the Paris Agreement, all countries were expected to arrive at COP26 with new or revised NDCs for curbing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping global warming below 2C. However, some are now voicing their concern that delaying climate summits (due to the Covid19 pandemic) will allow certain countries to make weak NDCs and escape the intense public and political scrutiny that comes with a climate summit.

“Developed countries cannot be allowed to use this as an opportunity to delay urgent action to ramp up their NDC commitments, nor as an excuse for their ongoing failure to provide climate finance for the global South. They must pursue an urgent, radical, but just transition away from fossil fuels,” explains May Boeve, Executive Director of

Japan sets a worrying precedent

On the 30th of March Japan became the first G7 industrialized nation to submit its NDCs in 2020. A move that has received widespread criticism as the world’s third-largest economy’s new commitments remain substantially unvaried from those set out in 2015 in Paris. 

With current measures, Japan is targeting a 26% reduction in emissions by 2030, which would be insufficient to meet the Paris Agreement’s targets. In fact, under current national targets, it is predicted that global temperatures will rise beyond the 2C limit within the next ten years, according to UN scientists.

“Japan should not slow down climate actions even amid the Covid-19 global fight, and must revisit and strengthen this plan swiftly in order to be in line with the Paris agreement,” said Kimiko Hirata, international director of the Kiko Network, a climate group in Japan. 

Although there has been some progress in Japan, particularly from the private sector where business conglomerates, such as Marubeni, have vowed to move away from fossil fuels, the Government’s NDCs are falling short of what is required. According to Christiana Figueres, who was head of the UN Climate Change secretariat at the time of the Paris Agreement, “The new NDC limits the scope for Japan to meet the goals required by science, desired by humanity and committed to by its government in Paris. I hope this announcement does not hinder further leadership from the private sector in Japan.” 

Naoyuki Yamagishi, head of the climate and energy group at World Wildlife Fund Japan, also claims that Japan has “sent a completely wrong signal to the international society implying it is OK not to enhance ambition at this crucial moment.”

Climate action cannot be delayed

In the words of UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, “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.”

Rescheduling climate conferences cannot delay climate action but must be used as an opportunity to increase ambition and allow countries to have more time to form more comprehensive climate action plans. COP26 will now take place in 2021 when there will be a new US president and in a world that will be recovering from Covid19. In the meantime governments must continue to work closely with scientists and the UNFCCC to create the conditions for a strong pathway to lowering emissions. Climate action cannot be delayed any further. 

Soon, economies will restart. This is a chance for nations to recover better, to include the most vulnerable in those plans, and a chance to shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, just, safe and more resilient.

UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa


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