The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma has announced that the  that the UK remains focused on its preparations for the COP26 climate summit despite its delay until 2021, stating that the current coronavirus pandemic and the need for climate action are not an “either-or” scenario. Concerns had been raised that it may be scaled back or cancelled altogether.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought the global economy to a standstill. The outbreak has seen countries go into lockdown and international trade grind to a halt as global leaders implement measures to limit the death toll and protect their national health services from collapse. The outbreak has already had a profound effect with major environmental events being postponed and significant impacts on the gas, electricity and oil markets as demand crashes.

Sharma, who was made the COP26 President in February, is continuing to discuss with the UN and other parties to set a new date for the global climate conference in 2021. He has asserted that work is continuing to address the global climate emergency with some countries already setting out their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and calling on others to deliver ambitious plans. The UK has also pledged to update its NDC, having originally submitted one as part of the EU and since setting the net-zero emissions goal for 2050.

According to the UN, the world is not on track to deliver the aims of the Paris Agreement with preliminary data for 2019 suggesting that greenhouse gas emissions increased globally in 2019 and carbon emissions from fossil fuels grew by more than 0.5%. With this in mind, COP26 is being viewed as a vital summit to negotiate for more ambitious and accelerated de-carbonisation efforts that are aligned with the 1.5C pathway of the Paris Agreement.

Whilst any delay is harmful for the global climate policy in the short term, it is vital that measures are taken in the meantime. There is growing pressure from several sources, including the International Energy Agency (IEA), that support for re-energising the economy after the pandemic should be linked to and promote environmental benefits. The need to reverse climate change by the end of the decade will not disappear with  Covid-19 and Governments should take the opportunity to ensure that recovery plans drive the implementation of technologies and measures that support sustainable and efficient energy use in the future. The opportunity to marry the benefits of stimulating economies with accelerating cleaner environmental transitions should missed.

In light of this, the UK Government is presented with a unique opportunity to lead on promoting a green agenda when re-energising the economy to the rest of the world despite the delay of the COP26 summit. By linking climate policy with immediate measures to deliver economic growth to improve upon short term net zero goals would send a powerful message to the global leaders who the UK will host for the delayed COP-26 in 2021.

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