Chair says UN climate talks in Glasgow must be COVID-safe

BERLIN — The chair of this year’s U.N. climate talks said Friday that he is planning for a physical meeting in November but that organizers are also discussing contingencies due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The global gathering was postponed last year because of the pandemic, hampering progress on a range of issues that have divided nations in their effort to curb climate change. The 2021 meeting is set to take place Nov. 1-12 in Glasgow, Scotland.

“The climate crisis has not abated,” said Alok Sharma, who was appointed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to preside over the summit.

“In fact, last year was the warmest year on record, the last decade was the warmest decade on record, and we’re seen the devastating effects of climate change around the world,” he added. “So we are going to be proceeding on the basis that this event is happening in November.”

Sharma said that while an in-person event is planned, “we need to make sure that it is safe” for participants and Glasgow residents when Britain hosts what will be its largest-ever international political gathering.

“We are working with our delivery partners on all the contingencies planning for different eventualities,” he said. “But it is vital for very many countries, particularly developing countries, they are able to sit physically face-to-face on the same table as the large countries, as the big emitters.”

Among the key issues to be resolved in advance of the summit is how to ensure that poor countries receive the $100 billion they were promised each year back in 2015. Rich countries were meant to provide the money from 2020 onward to help developing nations reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. So far, the funding has fallen short.

Johnson said Thursday at a virtual climate event hosted by Germany that he will use a Group of Seven meeting in June, which Britain also is hosting in Cornwall, England, to “bend the ear” of fellow leaders to stump up the $100 billion.

“”It, frankly, is a matter of trust for developing countries,” Sharma said.

Other issues that need to be tackled during a flurry of online preparatory meetings over the coming months include finalizing some of the rules by which countries pursue their goals under the 2015 Paris climate accord.

Sharma said he also wants all major emitters “to come forward with ambitious emission reductions commitments.”

Britain recently set out a goal of cutting emissions by 78% below 1990 levels by 2035. Germany is aiming for a 65% cut by 2030. President Joe Biden recently pledged to slash U.S. emissions by more than half in the next decade compared to 2005.

“We know what needs to be done, but we also know that time is not on our side,” Sharma said.

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